Cyanotypes, also called sun prints, are one of the oldest photographic printing processes dating back to 1842. Sir John Herschel developed this first silver less photographic process using only 2 chemicals and the sun as a light source. These sun prints are decidedly low tech as the final image of a cyanotype appears only with the aid of sunlight as a light source and water for a developer. This inexpensive, simple and permanent process was used for the blue print process for copying architectural plans, hence the name
“Blue print.” The very first book of printed text and photographs by Anna Atkin used the Cyanotype process.
This process involves two stock solutions that are mixed together and coated on watercolor paper. After the paper dries, a large negative is placed over the paper and placed in the sun or a UV light source, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the day, time of year, cloud cover and density of the negative. The cyanotype print is washed in plain tap water and dried in the air. Unlike traditional prints, the texture of the watercolor paper adds interesting tonal qualities and creative dimensions to the printing process. Many 19th century processes, like Cyanotypes are making a comeback with the fine art photographers. You can see modern versions of this antique process in many art exhibits and museums around the country. This current revival of alternative processes is more than a trend. I think the attraction for these old processes is the physical involvement during the printing processes, allowing photographers to use our hands, eyes and intuition when printing. This hands on technique is much more satisfying than simply pressing a print key on a computer.
July 10th, 2020
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