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Dictyola dichotoma

Photographer: Anna Atkins (1799 - 1871)

'Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit, 1843–53'

Between 1843 and 1853, the botanical artist Anna Atkins produced a series of over 400 startling images of British algae. Employing the same technique that Talbot had used for his early photogenic drawings, she laid specimens on sensitised paper and exposed them to sunlight. 

Rather than using Talbot’s process, however, she chose instead the cyanotype, invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. Simple and inexpensive to produce, its rich blue tones proved particularly appropriate for these beautifully arranged studies of marine organisms, valued now for their abstract elegance rather than for any scientific usefulness.

As a relatively simple process to prepare and manipulate - it required no development or fixing other than washing - it was popular among amateurs throughout the 19th century. It has also been widely used by engineers and architects for reproducing technical drawings ('blueprints'). 

Cameraless cyanotype negative

From Anna Atkins, Photographs of British algae. Cyanotype impressions (1843-53)

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