I was lucky enough to see the exquisite exhibition of Anna Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes at the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh in May.
The exhibition’s purpose was to explore the history and art of photography, and the small inner room of the gallery was devoted to a collection of original images from her seminal work British Algae; Cyanotype Impressions (1843), the first book to be illustrated by photography.
Anna Atkins was one of those quite amazing women known affectionately as the Seaweed Sisterhood – a group of both trained and self-taught botanists and phycologists who collectively classified and catalogued the seaweeds of the British coast in the mid-1800’s. Anna, in printing and publishing her book, also established the first use of photography for scientific illustration.
Her cyanotypes are very simple juxtapositions of blue and white, illustrating the shape and form of her botanical collection but with a lovely sense of artistry, harmony and balance. The work goes well beyond a scientific recording and evokes a sense of the aesthetic appreciation so often at the heart of collectors’ work of that era.
I had a go at creating some cyanotypes of my own pressings in a short workshop held in the darkrooms of the gallery. Not in the same league as Anna’s, but a pleasure to experience her process and thinking in creating this wonderful body of work.