Anthotype? A what? Explaining stencelling on plants and printing with plants

An excerpt from Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants and explains the difference between stencelling on plants and printing with plants.

Writer and photography / Malin Fabbri

Anthotypes by Malin Fabbri explaining stencelling on plantsAnthotype is a very delicate photographic process and an environmentally friendly way of making prints using nothing other than the photosensitive material of plants found in the garden, the flower market or in the wild. All you need to add is water, sunshine, inspiration and patience – a lot of patience!

Stencelling on fruit
Anthotypes (below) are not to be confused with a stencilling technique using photosynthesis (right) used to make prints ON plants. In this example a stencil, or a negative, has been placed directly on the plant. Over time, the pattern will appear, leaving a mark on the plant in the shape of the negative. In the case of anthotypes prints are made WITH plants in this case a dandelion (Tarazacum officinale).

The process is very basic and simple. Utilizing nature’s own coloring pigments from flower petals, berries, plants, vegetables or even spices, images are produced using the action of light. The natural pigment is used to create a photographic image. The plants are crushed and mixed with alcohol or water to make a light-sensitive emulsion. Ordinary watercolor paper is coated with the emulsion and an image can be created by exposing the paper under the sun for a few days or weeks. The plant juice undergoes a chemical or physical change when it is exposed to light, changing its color. Some fade and some darken.

Both stencelling and printing using plants is kind to the environment

mf_maskrosYou could be producing photographs making virtually zero impact on the environment. Picking flowers, grown without pesticides. Grinding the plants with a pestle and mortar, using no electricity. Printing on recycled paper, cutting down no trees. Exposing them in the natural sunlight. What could be better? Your impact on the natural environment is virtually non-existent, and you can carry out your art with a clear conscience. Anthotyping is the ultimate environmentally friendly photo process.

The benefits of anthotyping:

  • Totally environmentally friendly
  • Wonderful smells when picking petals – most of the time
  • A fun way to experiment with photography
  • A great way to get children involved without hazardous chemicals – though take extra care to avoid poisonous plants!

Some things that may not be so perfect:

  • The image can be somewhat faint
  • The exposure times are very long, it can take days, or even weeks
  • The prints are monochrome and thus limited to one color.

Malin Fabbri has written three books on alternative photographic processes. In 1999 she began, and continues to be it’s editor.

Learn more in the Anthotype book
Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants

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