In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was printed. And later the Image was permitted and the Image became the Photograph.
This month, New York City celebrates two great artists of the first years of photography. A man and a woman whose works illustrate several primary dualities of the medium: the single or the multiple, the direct image or the negative image, the paper or the metal, the mirror or the translucent.
Anna Atkins had, unusually for an English woman of her time, received a scientific education.
Atkins was known to have had access to a camera by 1841 and she learned directly from Talbot and Herschel.
From Talbot, two of his inventions related to photography: the “photogenic drawing” technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and the calotype ( a translucent original negative image was produced from which multiple positives could be made by simple contact printing) . Sir John Herschel was a friend of Atkins’ father, John George Children. He invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842. Within a year, Atkins applied the process to algae (specifically, seaweed) by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed “by placing the unmounted dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper”.
Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins, currently at the New York Public Library, ends February 17, 2019.
The Library holds one of about a dozen examples of her groundbreaking book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, as well as related publications. .
Blue Prints is co-organized by Joshua Chuang, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Associate Director for Art, Prints and Photographs, and The Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography, with Emily Walz, Librarian, Art and Architecture, both of NYPL, and Larry J. Schaaf, independent scholar .