The Gallery: Anna Atkins

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Introducing Anna Atkins, one of the earliest female photographers who pioneered the use of cyanotype (aka "sunprints") in the mid 1800s to record the beauty and variety of underwater plants. As photo processes go, cyanotypes are super approachable — learn how to make them yourself below!

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Fucus Nodosus, cyanotype from Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

These gorgeous blue and white images are most often made outside using the sun to expose the image — and if you are at the beach, as Atkins often was, you can rinse your prints out in the ocean! All you need is "sensitized" paper and plenty of sunshine. The Atkins' images were made by composing the plant materials directly onto the prepared paper... and exposing the composition to the sun. You can also expose homemade "negatives" by printing black/white images on transparency film using a copier or printer.

Kits are available with pre-sensitized paper, such as the SunPrint Kit which is inexpensive and suitable for using with kids. Or take a look at this site that sells sensitized watercolor papers and yards of fabric. You can also mix the chemicals yourself and sensitize your own papers and fabrics. I recommend browsing Mike Ware's site if you are interested in learning more and doing your own paper preparation. Click under "Practical Instructions for Traditional or New Cyanotype processes." Try it! Have fun!

And for more inspiration from Anna Atkins -- see this wonderful archive of her work prepared by the New York Public Library.

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