Making It: Getting Started with Cyanotypes

ULF SAUPE

Artist Eric William Carroll describes cyanotypes as the “photographic versions of finger painting: They’re tactile, child friendly, and yield immediate satisfaction.” Watching the process unfold, he says, “is equal parts magic and nostalgia.”

A variety of camera-less photograph, the cyanotype was invented in 1842 by astronomer and scientist John Herschel. Some of the best-known examples of cyanotypes are those made by British botanist Anna Atkins (1799–1871); Herschel was a family friend who taught her the technique. Atkins used cyanotype printing to produce accurate images of her botanical specimens, and her 1843 book, Part 1 of British Algae—thought to be the first book of photographs ever made—pioneered photography as a medium for scientific illustration.

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