Cyanotype is a traditional photographic process that was discovered by scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842, just three years after the ‘official’ discovery of photography. A cyanotype uses a liquid solution of iron compounds applied to a receptive surface (such as paper or cloth), which is exposed to UV light. The resultant images have a striking deep blue hue. Photographic prints using the cyanotype process can be created by placing objects directly onto the light sensitive surface (known as a photogram), or by exposing a negative (film or transparency) to the source of UV light.
The process was very popular in engineering circles well into the 20th century, as it allowed low-cost reproductions of technical drawings – leading to the term blueprint.
The cyanotype was also a popular way of documenting specimens from nature. Botanist Anna Atkins is often credited as not only the first female photographer, but also the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. These images were in fact cyanotypes. Also, interestingly, she was also born not far from where I live now – perhaps there is something in the water here!
I started experimenting with cyanotypes after I was brought a starter’s kit as a present. I was hooked as soon as I saw the first vivid blue images emerge before my eyes, and before I knew it, I had ideas for bigger and better prints buzzing around my head. The only thing stopping me now is the great British weather. The most easily accessible source of UV light is of course the sun, but that can’t always be depended upon. I’m currently trying to source an alternative lighting solution so I can make cyanotypes whatever the weather… watch this space!