Cyanotype history – John Herschel’s invention

A brief history of the cyanotype process.

The cyanotype process, also known as the blueprint process, was first introduced by John Herschel (1792 – 1871) in 1842. Sir John was an astronomer, trying to find a way of copying his notes.

Herschel managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda as early as 1839. In the early days the paper was coated with iron salts and then used in contact printing. The paper was then washed in water and resulted in a white image on a deep blue background. (Apart from the cyanotype process, Herschel also gave us the words photography, negative, positive and snapshot.)

One of the first people to put the cyanotype process to use was Anna Atkins (1799-1871), who in October 1843 became the first person to produce and photographically illustrated a book using cyanotypes. The cyanotype to the right is from a book of ferns published in 1843 by Atkins. She was a pioneering figure in photographic history, having produced the first book to use photographic illustrations. She was a botanist and her father a friend of Fox Talbot. Atkins book uses 424 cyanotypes (or as they were known then: "shadowgraphs"). The book was called "British Algae: Cyanotype impressions". It was printed privately and issued in several parts over ten years.
Her book therefore precedes Fox Talbot’s own "Pencil of Nature" in 1844.

Another, relatively unknown early cyanotype artist was Henry Bosse. His image Mouth of the St. Croix River from the series Upper Mississippi River was printed in 1885. It is held in the National Museum of American Art a Smithsonian Institution.

The process became popular with pictorialists, for whom a commercial paper called ferro-prussiate was marketed. The process was also used extensively for copying architectural plans until it was recently made obsolete by photocopying and computer printers.

The cyanotype process has remained virtually unchanged since its invention but a few variations have been developed, one of which is the New Cyanotype II by Mike Ware.


Beginners guide to cyanotypes
Blueprint to cyanotypes – Exploring a historical alternative photographic process
by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri
A well illustrated step-by-step guide to cyanotypes.
 
A lot more information on the process, chemicals, coating, exposure, printing, making negatives, washing and troubleshooting is available in this book.
 
Strongly recommended for beginners


6 Trackbacks

  1. By Cyanotype | azlein14 on May 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    [...] http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/history/cyanotype-history-john-herschels-invention [...]

  2. By A+ For 4 Club Members | RA Photo Club Blog on September 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    [...] (from Michelle and Vladislav along with one of Jerry’s), an inkjet from Jerry and a tea-toned cyanotype from Judy. Congratulations to all four for having their photography recognised in this [...]

  3. By the printed plant | a few birds and plants on March 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

    [...] 1830’s saw the invention of the cyanotype by Sir John Herschel http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/history/cyanotype-history-john-herschels-invention [...]

  4. [...] blue print process was invented by Sir John Hershel as an inexpensive way to copy his notes. Making a cyanotype is [...]

  5. […] Reference: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/history/cyanotype-history-john-herschels-invention […]

  6. By The History of Cyanotypes. | Raising Your Voice on March 5, 2014 at 11:28 am

    […] Fabbri, M. 2010. Cyanotype history – John Herschel’s invention. [online] Available at: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/history/cyanotype-history-john-herschels-invention [Accessed: 02 Feb 2014]. Getty.edu. 2014. Sir John Herschel (Getty Museum). [online] Available at: […]

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