After developing in sunlight, a cyanotype
print is washed with clear water
ON THE WAY TO INVENTING THE PHOTOGRAPH, quite a lot of ingenious methods of fixing images to paper (or tin or glass) popped up. Platinum/Palladium, Gum Bichromate, Bromoil, Salt Print, Tintype, Ziatype, and Daguerreotype are a few of the forerunners.
Cyanotypes are probably the simplest and least toxic of the lot. In 1842 an English astronomer, Sir John Herschel, discovered that a solution of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate could reproduce an image on paper with sunlight. The blueprint was born.
Miss Anna Atkins, an educated Victorian lady, and botanist, learned to make cyanotypes from Sir Herschel himself. In 1843, she produced a book of exquisite seaweed specimens, which became the very first book of photographs—by anyone. Her prints retain that vivid Prussian blue with sharp white detail now as they did over a century ago. (You can see them at the Natural History Museum in London.) Anna Atkins was more than just a cataloger of specimens—she was an artist and designer.
I've been experimenting with cyanotypes since 2021 and have used photo transparencies along with paper cut-outs and botanicals to create recent images. I think the addition of a
bit of watercolor has done the pictures some good.
Sir John Herschel,
astronomer and inventor of the cyanotype/blueprint in 1842
Specimen prints by Anna Atkins, 1843,
Natural History Museum, London., England