With women’s history month fresh in our calendars, it’s time to reflect on many of the greatest accomplishments of women from the last few hundred years. If you’re an avid photographer or botanist, you are likely to recognize the name Anna Atkins as one of the earliest photographers in the history of the world. She is considered by many to be the first person to ever publish a book illustrated entirely with photographed images.
Anna Atkins is truly one of the first career women and was long ahead of her time. While her mother passed away shortly after childbirth, she herself never had any children and was instead focused on learning photography techniques from her good friend William Henry Fox Talbot. This was a man who pioneered both the photogenic drawing techniques and calotypes, two pivotal methods in early photography that allowed for much greater detail in some of the first photos that were being taken.
Anna Atkins is also commonly known as the first woman to ever take a photograph. Just think about that for a second. She is right up there with the first woman in space or the first woman to fly an airplane. Anna proved that women can be ambitious innovators even in a world dominated by men!
Anna Atkins’ Book – Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Her book was originally published in October of 1843 using the earliest method of the cyanotype impression method. Her book features a wide variety of images of plants. These plants are all white with a blue background as is the basic appearance of the cyanotype imagery. This makes it easy to view with primitive, early photographic equipment but with a very high contrast.
She took this method from William Henry Fox Talbot, who was a close friend. This produces the characteristic cyan-blue print with a white forefrand as a result of the types of chemicals being used to capture and refine the images.
She also collaborated with her friend, Annie Dixon, who she said was like a sister to her, to make a number of additional works such as Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854), disassembled pages of which are held by various museums and collectors. Another of her more notable works is Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853), now in the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Why Photography in the Early Part of 19th Century was so Crucial
With the invention of the camera at this time, some of the first photographs in the history of the world were being taken. Anna Atkins was making history whether she realized it or not. She was making a new world for herself and her peers by developing these methods so photographs like View from the Window at Le Gras could be taken or Robert Cornelius’ self portrait, leading all the way up to the pictures we take today.
The light sensitive nature of cyanotype photographs was no stranger to Anna Atkins. She spent her life and her free time studying and embracing this. Remember this every time you snap a new picture for Facebook or Instagram and be thankful!
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