Photographs of British Algae

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by Anna Atkins

Introduced by Emma Balch

Anna Atkins, a 22-year old woman working alone, was the first person to publish a non-commercial book illustrated with photograph images. ‘Photographs of British Algae’ was produced by Atkins, remarkably, in 1843. The result was not only ground-breaking, but also stunningly beautiful. It featured images hand developed using the cyanotype process to produce a striking blue print. Just four copies of this book exist, one of which is in the British Library collection.

I am excited to be working on a project with Merthyr Tydfil College photography department, re-imagining this book. Students on the foundation photography course will speak via Skype with a curator at the British Library about Anna Atkins’ book. They will also be introduced to photographs of Dinas Rock & Waterfalls in South Wales taken by R.P. Napper, for a book published by the British & Foreign Portrait Company in 1864.

The students will make a site visit to Dinas Rocks and shoot new photos of that landscape. They will create negatives both from the digital images in the British Library archives and from their own photos. From these negatives they replicate the cyanotype process to produce photographically illustrated pages for a 12-page hand-printed book.

The development of this book will be documented. This will form the narrative for the hand-printed book, which be told through surprising digital content presented via an app.

The new book will exist on two levels:-

  1. As beautiful hand-printed book that reinterprets archive images found in the British Library digital archives.
  2. Digitally, through a purpose built app which will quite literally bring the pages to life and tell the story of the archive images, the book, and the group of students who became curators and publishers.

The students will share their new book, inspired by Anna Atkins’ book, on this blog later in the year.

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Anna Atkins


The title page of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by Anna Atkins

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