This beautiful photo of algae floating in a sea of cyan blue is taken from the first ever book to be published with photogrpahs. Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was filled with images like this, each captured using the new cyanotype method invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. The new way of photographic printing used a light sensitive solution-coated paper, (treated with ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide) upon which specimens could be placed under a light or in the sun. After washing it left a negative impression against a brilliant background sea of cyan - perfect for illustrating a collection of seaweed.
Atkins, who knew both Herschel and father of photography, Henry Fox Talbot, began photographing her collection of British algae and seaweed, distributing the results to her friends between 1843 and 1853. Today this pioneering book seems like a beautiful work of art as much as botanical study and cyanotype printing (which was also a popular way of producing engineering drawings - called 'blueprints') is once again a resurgent artform. This particular image, 'Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit', comes from the Horniman Museum's copy of the rare book, which they will be displaying as part of an installation developed by artist Serena Korda and members of the local community in their new artspace, 'The Studio’, which opens to the public on Saturday October 20. #victorian #photography #algae #cyanotype #sirjohnherschel #earlyphotography #instamuseum #collections
photo courtesy the Horniman Museum