A book review by Peter J. Blackburn of Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants written by Malin Fabbri.
Author and artist, Malin Fabbri, along with a team of dedicated contributors have compiled a new book filled with ideas and imagery originating from a location one would least expect – your garden!
Dedicated artists, indeed, for the images they create require units of time measured not in seconds or minutes, but in days, weeks, even months. I am speaking of anthotypes, the printing of photographic pictures using the pigments, essences, even the juice of organic matter found in your backyard plot, out in the meadow, the neighborhood florist, even in the produce section of your nearest supermarket. And the book, Anthotypes, by Malin Fabbri is where you can learn all about them in very short order.
Malin’s fast-paced style takes you from the customary what and how of the process, to a broad section of intriguing examples.
After studying one image after another you will quickly see the range of where your imagination can go. A useful rating system is included to help evaluate particular species of flora for their suitability in the work. With profuse illustrations and photographs scattered throughout, the reader will be both informed and inspired to experiment with the possibilities of anthotypes. The lovely lily image by Marydorsey Wanless on page 77 especially caught my eye. Contrasting a nicely saturated graphic design with the natural form of a few lily petals is quite eye-popping. So creative! Bravo!
After seeing this book in the final printed form, having also reviewed the preliminary draft, two distinct impressions have formed in my mind concerning this work. First, what a wonderful, even ideal place for the beginning alternative artist to start—with the making of anthotypes. Simple photograms can be rendered with a minimum of material and expense. Your printing emulsion can be as close as your refrigerator or cupboard. With ordinary paper, bits of odds and ends, and lots of sunlight the reader will be well on their way to discovering rudimentary principles of photography. And that leads me to the second impression.
What a marvelous means of introducing youngsters to photography. Oh, I know, they’re all using iPhones and such, but here is where even the youngest of children can make images with their grape jelly, cinnamon toast (without the toast), and carrot juice. In fact, teachers should consider using this text in the classroom across the curriculum. Have your students create anthotypes while discussing nutrition, ecology, biology, even math. Consider the writing of a poems or short stories combining anthotype illustrations. How safe and toxic-free! How easy! How fun and enriching!
With sad regret, I should point out the “Achilles heel” of anthotypes. The same action of light which creates the delicate, delightful image will, in time, destroy the same image. Your photograph will continue to decrease in contrast over of time—some quickly. Therefore, I hesitate to pronounce anthotypes a lightfast medium. Organic matter from animals and plants has been used in dyes since antiquity. Most all have a tendency to fade or darken. Two organic pigments still found in use today are indigo and alizarin. The latter, a pigment many art critics love to kick around, is especially notorious for fading in the blink of an eye. Hence, the art world has migrated to the use of synthetic lightfast equivalents, leaving behind the organic pigments. The point has been made quite clear in the book and artists should take note.
Overall, I applaud Anthotypes. If you are a serious practitioner in alternative processes, this volume deserves a place on your shelf. The historical information and amazing examples alone fully justify the modest expense of your purchase. Would that more “how-to” manuals in our field would generously illustrate content with such a wide assortment of images. Well, I’m off to check my own anthotype exposing outdoors. It’s been over a week and I can’t wait to see the result! Cheers to you.