I've been thinking about the Isle of Skye for some time in terms of what artwork it inspires me to respond with, and on first thoughts it was about the light, the colours, and the food. I'd been thinking around a few ideas and one that kept coming back, was experimenting with the cyanotype process using digital negatives which I thought could have lots of scope.
Before I show you my experiments so far, I wanted to share a bit about the history of the process and one woman in particular.
The cyanotype process was developed in 1842 by the English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel [who has a museum in Bath] as a way of reproducing notes and diagrams rather than in a creative application. It was Anna Atkins [1799 - 1871] who first saw the potential for the technique to be used as a type of photographic record and who used it to create a series of cyanotype limited-edition books that documented ferns and other plant life. Because of her use of this technique, Anna is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images and the first female photographer. Images from her book can be seen here: Anna Atkins Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
The process works by mixing two chemicals [ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide] together in equal measure, and coating a surface e.g paper. Once dry, you arrange objects on the paper and put outside in direct sunlight to 'develop.' Mixing these two particular chemicals together causes a reaction that renders it sensitive to the UV rays in sunlight. Cyanotype photography was popular in Victorian England, but became less popular as photography improved.
So, here, I'm sharing my very first test pieces with you, and it was a rather magical experience seeing the images appear as you rinse away the chemicals! I discovered that the handmade paper I'd used wasn't really up for the job as some of the paper started to disintegrate when washed. So you do need to use a strong paper as you have to make sure you wash all the chemicals out of your pieces otherwise they will continue to develop. These test pieces were left in midday sun, with a glass plate covering them to improve the contact with the paper, for around 7 minutes.
I was also surprised how well the digital negatives I'd made worked and which images created better prints than others. I did have to try a fern, as that's possibly the most cyanotyped object in history! And I can see why, as it creates a really strong image.
Next is to try some different papers, objects and fabric.
I bought my Cyanotype set from www. cyanotype.co.uk and my Inkjet film from The Surrey Inkjet Company and have been surprised and really pleased with the results so far. It's really fun!
Have you tried this process for yourself?
All images copyright Morwhenna Woolcock
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