Cyanotype Art and the Cyanotype Process

Coating paper with the light sensitive chemicals ready to make a cyanotype.

So what is ‘Cyanotype Art’ and the ‘Cyanotype Process’. Well simply put it’s original art created using the cyanotype photographic process. It falls under the banner of ‘Alternative Photography’ and is arguably the most easily recognisable due to its iconic Prussian blue and white colours.

With the invention of digital photography, many proclaimed that film and analogue photography was dead. Yet those who have experienced the magic of a darkroom know that will never be true, especially when it comes to the more art-based ways of using the processes, essentially photographic art. ‘Alternative’ photography creates unique images which digital simply can’t duplicate. Additionally, their purely physical nature creates a very different personal relationship between the photographer or artist and the photographic images produced.

Framed Cyanotype
Framed Cyanotype

“There is something magical about watching an image physically manifest. I get a real buzz from it everytime”

What exactly is a Cyanotype?

Well, a Cyanotype Print is a photographic image which traces it’s origins back to the 19th Century. The prints are created by coating the paper by hand with light-sensitive chemicals before exposing the treated paper to UV light, either from a lamp or using sunlight. The print can then be ‘developed’ in water which is when the beautiful blue colour appears. As a result, the prints are all different and original.

Leaping Hare Original Cyanotype hand embellished with silver and gold.
Leaping Hare Cyanotype hand embellished with silver and gold.

The process was developed by Sir John Herschel (of astronomy fame) in 1842 and was used to create the first book to be illustrated using photographic images in 1843 by Anna Atkins. It tended to be dismissed by ‘serious’ photographers in Victorian England because of the blue and white colouring. The argument was that a blue and white image is ridiculous because we don’t see the world in blue and white. Ironic then that those same ‘serious’ photographers had no problem with sepia coloured images considering we don’t see the world in brown and white either.

While those ‘serious photographers’ may have turned their back on the process it has gained a dedicated following, enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years with artists exploring ways to extend the process in new and exciting ways.