I have really found these primitive methods of creating imagery very fascinating. While we can add an “effect” in Photoshop to get a pristine replica of the process we are trying to achieve, the actual process itself lends itself to a bit of mysterious outcome which I find frustrating and exciting! Because most of these processes are ephemeral, we can capture through scanning to save and continue the process of image making.
After reading about cyanotypes, I discovered that I have done a TON of them. I’m talking hundreds and didn’t even know it! My first out of high school internship with an architect firm back in 1991. I spend hours typing their specs into a computer for easy editing and printing. (Formerly they were having to re-type the page if they needed to add or change anything to the specs. And for those that don’t know, architecture specs are HUNDREDS of pages long. My other job was to run copies of “blueprints.” Blueprints are cyanotypes! I took their schematics that were drawn on vellum, put it on top of a sheet of light sensitive paper and ran it through a machine (will have to look up the name) that exposed it to light and rolled it back out to me. Then I rolled just the exposed light-sensitive paper into a chemical bath and it rolled back out damp and finished. I made hundreds of these. Probably processed 2-3 large (blueprint size) sheet a minute and I would spend hours doing this. Crazy how things connect.
“Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings, referred to as blueprints. The process uses two chemicals: ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide.”
Thank you Wikipedia. Love you / hate you. Mostly love you.
History of the Cyanotype
The multidiscipline Sir John Hershel is credited for discovering the process that creates cyanotypes in 1842. However, Anne Atkins, the woman who is attributed with being the first female photographer, deserves the acknowledgment for bringing cyanotypes to the world of photography.
Anne Atkins was a botanist and she used cyanotypes to record her plant life collection of ferns and seaweeds. She produced a series of limited books using this process in the 1840s. After that cyanotypes were not used much other than an alternate way to produce photo proofs since with was cheaper than silver and other types of photographic process starting in the 1880s. During this time, cyanotypes were starting to be used for architectural blueprints.
During the 1960s, contemporary photographers revitalized the cyanotype process (1)
Artists Who Used Cyanotype
“Curtis also created a large body of cyanotypes (blue-hued, printing-out process prints). These were made in the field contemporaneously with the creation of negatives and, presumably, virtually all of his 40,000-plus negatives were initially printed as cyanotypes; however, few of these survive.” (3)
Christian Marclay (American, b. 1955).
“Christian Marclay is a London and New York based visual artist and composer whose innovative work explores the juxtaposition between sound recording, photography, video and film.” (4)
I’ve had a bit of trouble trying to find past artists who have made a name for themselves with cyanotype. I am currently enjoying finding designers like
I am currently enjoying finding designers like Jill DeHaan who are experimenting with the process and current type trends.
Focus for Maymester:
I discovered Hannah Lambs postcard series on Pinterest. And would like focus on producing functional postcards with whatever process we do in class. End results will be a series of alt-process postcards emphasizing typography.