We’ve covered the fascinating colour and physicality of cyanotypes here before, when here at The Chromologist we looked into the concept of ‘blue’. But now an exhibition opening at New York Public Library has drawn us to look in more detail at the works of one artist indelibly associated with the colour: Anna Atkins, the creator of a distinctive body of work using this photographic printing process.
In 1843 Anna Atkins began her groundbreaking Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. She used the cyanotype method – which had only been invented the previous year – to record these specimens with both incredible clarity but also an artful sensibility. In the process she made history – the book was the first in the world to be illustrated by photographs, and the first significant use of the artform in the service of science.
The images are still so striking today – a set of images at once precise and mysterious, their ethereal presence enhanced by the vivid blue of the backgrounds. The modernity of the images shines through.
Added to this, Atkins succeeded in an entirely male world. Born in 1799 in Kent, she was influenced by her scientist father, steeped in interest in botany, and she quickly began documenting her own collections, at first through illustration, but also through new photographic technology.
In addition to the seaweed images of the first book, in the 1850s, Atkins collaborated with friend Anne Dixon to produce a further three volumes, covering ferns and flowering plants.
The beauty and modernity of these images rings through the exhibition, and the New York Public Library is showing them alongside an exhibition of 19 contemporary artists who have reinterpreted her work. You can also see her influence in the enduring appeal of botanical, seaweed and fern imagery among generation after generation of designers.
Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins is on at the New York Public Library until 17 February 2019