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
4/10/2019 09:12:29 pm
Cyanotypes are so cool! It was wonderful learning about the history and the details of the process. I was surprised to hear that cyanotypes were used by engineers for blueprints, and I laughed to myself because I feel like I shouldn't have been surprised. It makes so much sense! A cyanotype is literally a blue print! The process sounds really interesting, and I find it strange that it's not used by many artists nowadays. The aesthetic is very appealing.
4/11/2019 12:21:43 am
I saw the picture before I started the reading. They look like very familiar to me cause some ancient towns in China have a tie-dye technique, and the tie-dyed fabric has the same color with the works your research shows. But for the Chinese tie-dye pieces, they are more like craft works, craftsman always want to show the good meaning in the images. Therefore, it is interesting for me to see the same color, but more about history, memories, or even talk about the dark part of the history, it will be really different and i hope to see more about this theme.
Elizabeth Z. Pineda
4/11/2019 07:51:33 pm
I too love Annie Lopez' work. She has a very strong political voice and talks about her culture (also my own) and its history through her art. Her use of materials adds to the strength and breadth of her work adding layers upon layers of meaning. I am sorry you had a hard time finding contemporary artists who work using this medium. Meghann Riepenhoff, Diana Bloomfield, and Barbara Kasten are just a few highly-regarded contemporary artists working with this medium.
4/11/2019 08:28:13 pm
The paper made dress by Annie Lopez Rogers is beautiful. This work has captured my interest to try and experiment with cyanotypes. The image left behind in from the process does touch on memory and nostalgia. You might enjoy "Cultural Memory Studies" by Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning, in relations to this. Specifically the chapter on Photography as Externalization & Trace.
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