Digital Resource of the Week: Ocean Flowers: Anna Atkins’s Cyanotypes of British Algae

Ptilota sericea
Ptilota sericea

Ocean Flowers: Anna Atkins’s Cyanotypes of British Algae, from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, is truly a one-of-a-kind digital collection. In 1841, William Harvey published Manual of British Algae, but it did not contain any images. Atkins sought to illustrate Harvey’s Manual by experimenting with William Henry Fox Talbot‘s “photogenic drawing” technique. By placing an object against light-sensitized paper and then exposing it to sunlight, the paper darkens around the object, creating a silhouette of the object. We know this process today as blueprint, or cyanotype.

The final product of Atkins’ work is Photographs of British Algae. What makes algae so interesting? In this case, Photographs is “a landmark in the histories both of photography and of publishing: the first photographic work by a woman, and the first book produced entirely by photographic means.”

Ocean Flowers contains over 200 images of algae photographed in the cyanotype technique. You can learn more about cyanotype, and see more objects photographed in this technique, by searching the UArts Libraries’ catalog for the keyword cyanotype or the subject blueprints or blueprinting. To see more of Atkins’ work, check out her book Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms.

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