You’ve got mail! An unusual cyanotype project by Pedro Leal

I received a letter. You know one of those that comes through the mailbox. An undeveloped cyanotype in a transparent envelope. Interview with Pedro Leal about his cyanotype mail project “Time Today”.

Photography / Pedro Leal


A paper coated with cyanotype emulsions and dried arrived in a transparent envelope.
A paper coated with cyanotype emulsions and dried arrived in a transparent envelope.

During my 23 years as an editor of AlternativePhotography.com, I have had some unusual things sent to me, and this was one of them. Pedro Leal is doing a project where he coats and dries a paper coated with cyanotype chemicals. He puts them in a transparent envelope and sends it out to people all over the world. The receiver just needs to send it back to Pedro. I got curious and wanted to know more.

Pedro Leal postal cyanotype project personal note.
Pedro Leal included a personal note. It certainly is a personal project.

What was the idea behind the “Time Today” project?

Pedro Leal: To represent the quality of time, through cyanotype, in a postal journey. What I propose with this project is a deeper reflection on our time and its quality. Today’s notion and fruition of Time, in contrast with the recent past one. Time determined by celestial phenomena exists. But the passing of time is relative, and it is this Time that interests me the most.

Pedro Leal postal cyanotype project developing the cyanotype
I developed the cyanotype under running water, this is not usually a requirement, Pedro asks participants to send it back.

How does it work?

Pedro Leal:  I make a translucent envelope by hand, and write the address of the recipient and sender. I buy a nice stamp at the post office.
The envelope contains a postcard on 300gr watercolour paper, with cyanotype emulsion, on the back I handwrite a personal message to the recipient. It also contains a self-adhesive, pre-filled label with my address, that I ask to be pasted over theirs when they send the letter back. It also contains a Cyanotype made by me, which I offer to the recipient.

What are you hoping to achieve with the project?

Pedro Leal: I intend to question our notion of time. Recording on cyanotype the journey of a letter containing a photosensitive postcard, on its journey through traditional mail. The starting point of this project was the holiday postcards. When we travelled abroad, we use to write postcards to our parents describing the journey, the events, what we had seen, and experienced, the adventures and surprises, ending with kisses, our longing “saudades” (in Portuguese)… In short, it brings us closer together and shortens the distance from our loved ones.

Pedro Leal postal cyanotype project white cyanotype
I guess this postal bag had been quite airtight. Not much came out…

What are the results so far?

Pedro Leal: When I receive back the postcards, I get significantly different results, some almost blank. Others with some marks, like stamp marks or addresses. Others have had the spontaneous intervention of the recipients and brought things inside. There are also the lost ones, that never arrived.

“Most are like yours…
Most are clear, almost white. One was during winter from Lisbon to Amsterdam. There was one that got lost, Buenos Aires and one I’m still waiting to arrive from Curaçau in the Caribbean sea. It seems like the mail mostly is transported in bags or boxes away from the sun….”

Pedro Leal

What will you do next?

Pedro Leal: I want to continue this project and I’m still waiting for some postcards that I sent to distant friends… where postage is more difficult.

I also have another mail base project, which aims to enhance the sense of sharing and community. I send a photosensitive “book” and instructions. Each friend who receives it makes an exposure and develops it afterwards and sends it to another friend, in the end, the last one sends it back to me.

Cyanotype in the mail Cyanotype in the mail Cyanotype in the mail Cyanotype in the mail

Pedro Leal born in the western part of Europe, studied photography and drawing. his work is influenced by the sea, the sun and nature, exploring the limits of cyanotype. See his gallery here.

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