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Am I Blue: The Cyanotype
by Richard T. Rosenthal
The Cyanotype, or blue print process, was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842, thus making it one of the very earliest photographic processes. It was also relatively quick and simple and Herschel used it to make copies of notes. The best known early proponent of cyanotypes was Anna Atkins who did a series of leaf prints and also published books utilizing the process. However, it was relatively little used and early examples of cyanotypes are rare.
Advertisement from The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1900
Professional photographers utilized it to make work-or- proof prints because it was so easy to use and because cyanotypes are very stable and long lasting images. Most professionals, however, heeded Peter Henry Emerson’s dictate in Naturalistic Photography: "…no one but a vandal would print a landscape in red, or in Cyanotype" (Crawford, p.68). They did not do any serious work using the process.
Another example of its utility can be seen in the cyanotypes of the building of the Boston Elevated Railway Line. The photographer wanted to record the progress of the construction and used the process because it was quick, cheap, and easy.
At this time also, many amateurs became enamored with the Cyanotype process and for a while it became quite popular. It is not uncommon to find blue print photographs in amateur photography albums of the day. It is also interesting to note that during this revival photographers followed directly in Anna Atkins footsteps and made Cyanotype leaf prints.