By Shaivyya Gupta
Enigmatic blue backdrops imprinted with detailed silhouettes in white- cyanotypes are instantly recognizable by their azure monochromatic palette that is at once haunting and inexplicably picturesque.
Cyanotype is one of the oldest photographic printing processes and is a striking blend of the precision of chemistry with the curiosity of art.
We, at the LCT studio, are captivated with the blue-print process and have been playing with the technique to bring you something very special soon.. So stay tuned !
In the meantime, lets take a deep dive into the process of cyanotype and its significance in both science and visual arts to understand why it still holds a special place for image-makers and artists two centuries after its discovery.
What is Cyanotype?
Cyanotype (from Greek: cyan- dark blue, type- impression) is a photographic printing process that creates blue prints on paper/textile. The surface is coated with an iron based chemical solution, which is then exposed to direct UV light (sunlight) to create a print called a photogram. Before exposure the coated piece appears bright green. A cyanotype print can be made two ways: by using a photo negative, or by placing an object directly onto the surface and exposing it to the sun. The parts that are exposed to ultraviolet turn blue as the non-water-soluble Prussian blue pigment remains in the paper. The areas which were blocked from UV, are rinsed of all pigments and appear in their original color- most often white, but colored paper or fabric can also be used.
Origins Of Cyanotype
Cyanotype was invented by the astronomer and chemist Sir John Herschel in 1842. Herschel sought a quick and inexpensive technique of reproducing his academic notes and thus developed the process by brushing light sensitive solutions of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, also known as Prussian blue, onto paper, which was then exposed to sunlight.
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The affordability and stability of cyanotype process made it a favorable choice for the reproduction and preservation of technical drawings used in architecture thereby giving birth to the ‘Blueprint’, which derives its name from the brilliant hue of the resulting images.
Cyanotype’s Foray Into Art
English botanical artist and photographer, Anna Atkins was the first to employ the cyanotype process to create a photographic album of algae specimens in 1843. Atkins was enthralled by the rich blue shade and austerity of the process and began to develop prints by laying her botanical specimens directly upon photosensitive paper. A decade later, she produced three volumes of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions', which is considered the first book to be photographically printed and illustrated.
Her cyanotypes were artfully composed to create stunning imprints of sea plants that appear to be floating in oceanic blue. Their aesthetic quality merged the realms of art and science and have served as an inspiration of cyanotype artists ever since.
John Mercer, The Father of Textile, used the process for printing photographs onto cotton fabrics and discovered means of toning the cyanotype into violet, green, brown, red, or black in the 1850s.
Tinting Art Blue
Cyanotype flourished as a technique of artistic expression because of its intrinsic potential for manipulation. It produces distinctive effects and is versatile, enabling prints to be made on a variety of surfaces with ease.
American printmaker Bertha Jaques, of the late Victorian Arts and Crafts movement, produced more than a thousand cyanotype photographs of wildflowers in the late 19th century.
In 1969, artist Catherine Jansen created the Soft Tea Set, a photographic, three-dimensional object using the cyanotype process. She was the first to use this photographic process in a sculptural format. Jansen also created a scaled to life room environment using cyanotype on cloth. The installation called, The Blue Room is part of the permanent collection at the Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Contemporary artists like Pauline Burbidge and Barbara Hazen pay homage to the botanical centric origins of the process by using cyanotype to create artworks and textile landscapes that can be traced back to Atkin’s body of work.
That cyanotype is experiencing a renaissance moment in the modern one-click instant photography domain comes as no surprise. Its poignant blue aesthetic has an arresting quality that imprints the viewer’s mindscape with an inexplicable intrigue. Artists and visual practitioners are reviving and reinventing the blue tinted photogram- challenging its conventions to create wildly distinct works of art that are once contemporary yet hark back to a bygone era.
Maybe it's because the process is so satisfyingly hands on and allows the creator to slowly watch their work literally come to life as it soaks up the sun. A few chemicals and water are all one needs on a sunny day to begin their journey into this enchanted realm of printmaking that holds within its cerulean surface possibilities galore. 💙