Cyanotypes were invented in 1842 by astronomer, photographer and chemist John Hershel. It was said that he “could have invented photography” if he had bothered to. A majority of the photo processes used during this time were silver based processes, the cyanotype however is not. The process uses a mix of Ammonium Iron Citrate and potassium ferricyanide to create a photosensitive solution that can be applied to anything capable of absorbing it. Then exposing this to ultraviolet light with a negative image with create a positive image, after this exposure the object will need to be washed with water. Anna Atkins is credited as the first person to ever make photo books when using cyanotypes to document botanicals entitled British Algae Vol.1. She is also most likely the first woman to ever make a photograph. She was born in 1799, and is recognized as important to both the history of botany as well as photography. In the 1840s the process is rarely used outside of botanicals. Cyanotypes later started to be used by engineers and architects to make blueprints. Before the cyanotype these sketches were copied by hand. In the mid 20th century, zenographic prints finally replaced blueprints, and now digital prints have become most common.
I became interested in this process because of the artist Annie Lopez Rogers who is also based in Phoenix. Her family has been in Arizona since 1871, and like my family, her’s was a part of the population who the border crossed over after the Mexican American war. Her work focuses a lot on that and the history of Mexicans in Phoenix. She oftentimes uses cyanotypes on tamale wrapping paper. After SB1070 she constructed a both men and women's underwear out of cyanotypes made from her birth certificate and other documents from her childhood entitled I’ll Show You My Papers If You Show Me Yours.
I expected that I would find a large amount of contemporary artists who use cyanotypes in their work, but I had a hard time finding any others. I brought this up to photography students, who said that it is hard to use cyanotypes without being overly nostalgic or romanticizing a different time.I find myself agreeing with this, but I think that Annie Rogers uses the process in a way that is aware of the effect that the process carries with it. I think then when we’re talking about the darker parts of our history that it can be smart to use a medium with a nostalgic tie to it. It reminds me a bit of Mia Adams’ current work, where she tends to use almost over patriotic language and symbols to point towards the history of the United States.
Annie Lopez Rogers
Annie Lopez Rogers
Annie Lopez Rogers
By Elayne Drury
Alison Bechdel (b. September 10, 1960) is a contemporary comic artist and graphic novelist, most known for her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (which ran from 1983 until it's indefinite hiatus in 2008) and her graphic memoirs Fun Home (which was recently turned into a Broadway musical that received the Tony award for Best Musical in 2015) and Are You My Mother?. Bechdel describes her work as being “preoccupied with the overlap of the political and the personal spheres, the relationship of the self to the world outside”. A lot of the overlap of the political and personal spheres manifests as issues pertaining to being a lesbian.
Her first major work was a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For. The name originates from a drawing Bechdel did in the margin of a letter to a friend depicting a naked woman holding a coffee pot with the caption “Marianne, dissatisfied with the breakfast brew. Dykes to Watch Out For, Plate no. 27”. Eventually, Bechdel submitted the single-panel drawings to a feminist magazine for which she worked. The strip continued as single-panel drawings with a caption before eventually expanding into a multi-panel strip with story arcs and a cast of mostly lesbian recurring characters.
Dykes to Watch Out For is also the originator of the Bechdel-Wallace test (also known simply as the Bechdel test). In one 1985 strip of the comic, two unnamed characters consider seeing a movie. One of the characters states that she does not see a movie unless it meets three requirements; that there are at least two women (one) who talk to each other (two), and that what they talk about is something other than a man (three). The test originated from Bechdel's friend, Liz Wallace, and has since been adapted in many feminist circles as a judgment of media's depiction of women.
Besides Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel is also known for her “tragicomic” memoirs. Fun Home, published in 2006, is an autobiographical memoir about Bechdel's relationship with her father and deals with themes relating to sexuality, both his and her own. Bechdel's second autobiographical memoir, titled Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (published in 2012), is a companion piece to Fun Home, and focuses on her relationship with her mother. It is described by Bechdel as being about “the self, subjectivity, desire, the nature of reality, that sort of thing”. Both Fun Home and Are You My Mother? offer an emotional insight into relationships and the self through smart, witty, and heartbreaking commentary.
Bechdel's work has been a source of inspiration for my own. I remember first picking up Fun Home in high school, both being disgusted by it due to homophobia from being a closeted lesbian myself, and intrigued, as I hadn't read anything written by a lesbian before. A few months later, I found out that she had come up with the Bechdel-Wallace test. I had heard of the Bechdel test from some article or another, but it took a while for me to find out the test had originated from a lesbian, and for some reason that really effected me. Something that wide-spread and influential having been created by a lesbian was almost unimaginable to me at the time. As a both a lesbian and an aspiring graphic novelist, Bechdel's work has been monumentally influential, from a little comic strip that blew up into a test that academics use to judge media's treatment of women, to emotional labyrinths depicting the relationship between the people we are and the people others want us to be.
Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.