Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Enrichment material for "Fixing a Shadow" lesson: Anna Atkins (1799-1871)

Our Fixing a Shadow lesson focuses on the work of Fox Talbot. But.... did you know that the very first book of photography was made of sunprints, just like we're making?

Anna Atkins (1799-1871, pictured at left) was the same generation as Fox Talbot; her father was a scientist and a librarian at the British Museum. When her father published a translation of a French book about shells in 1823, Anna provided over 250 illustrations. In 1839, Anna was recognized for her work when she was elected to the Botanical Society of London. It was around this time that she started making cyanotypes (sunprints) of different species of algae, based on Fox Talbot's method. In 1843, she began publishing British Algae, and followed that with another compilation of cyanotypes, The Ferns (1854). Because each print was unique, these books were published in very small runs, and only a few copies remain today.

Check out selections from the New York Public Library's set of Anna Atkins's stunning algae cyanotypes here.

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