Mt Cheaha & Max

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.

After reading about cyanotypes, I discovered that I had 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. One of my jobs was to run copies of “blueprints.” Blueprints are cyanotypes! I took their schematics that 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 the machine rolled it back out to me. Then I placed the exposed light-sensitive paper into a chemical bath, and it fed the paper back out finished. I made hundreds of these. Crazy how things connect.

History of the Cyanotype

Anna Atkins Algae Cyanotype
Anna Atkins Algae Cyanotype

The multidiscipline Sir John Hershel is credited with 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 processes 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

Past

Red Plume - Piegan, 1905 • Cyanotype by Edward S. Curtis
Red Plume – Piegan, 1905 • Cyanotype by Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis (1886-1952) “was an American ethnologist and photographer of the American West and Native American peoples.” (2)

“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)

Current

Christian Marclay. Cassette Grid No. 13, 2009 cyanotype, 22 x 30"
Christian Marclay. Cassette Grid No. 13, 2009
cyanotype, 22 x 30″

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 artists like Jill DeHaan who are experimenting with the process and current type trends.

Jill DeHaan. Wordsworth Quote. Experiment with cyanotype paper and yard scraps.
Jill DeHaan. Wordsworth Quote. Experiment with cyanotype paper and yard scraps.