Cyanotype is a camera-less photographic printing process invented in 1842 by scientist and astronomer, Sir John Hirschel, which produces a cyan-blue print when a chemistry-coated surface is exposed to sunlight. The first artist (who was also a botanist) to use it was Anna Atkins. She is cited as the very first female photographer (though made without the use of a camera) and her family was friends with William Henry Fox Talbot (credited with inventing photography) and Atkins learned techniques from him and then made her own path. She published a book Photographs of British Algae in 1843.


Through my use of this medium, I manipulate physical impressions of plants grown locally in my Hudson Valley garden and other nearby areas, along with intricately cutout photographic negatives. Each selected flower or plant is preserved through a pressing process in which I dissect and shape each form—akin to a specimen from a natural history museum—and then lay everything out in massive flat files in my attic studio. Given that sunlight starts the exposure process with cyanotype chemistry, I carefully arrange elaborate compositions at night and utilize long exposures under natural or UV light to create the final prints.

Julia Whitney Barnes