A tribute to Anna Atkins (1799 - 1871)
The history of photography reminds us that Anna Atkins (1799-1871) has published the first book illustrated using photography by utilizing the newly discovered cyanotype process invented in 1842 by Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871), the famous astronomer, chemist and mathematician.
The cyanotype process, based on the photosensitivity of iron salts, was principally used by Herschel to make copies of his notes as well as photo-grams of peacock feathers and other natural objects. This printing method had been experimented as early as 1834 by William Henri Fox Talbot (1800 - 1877) who made photo-grams with his salted paper process which he called photogenic drawings.
By corresponding with William Henry Fox Talbot, Anna Atkins learned about photogenic drawings, and her acquaintance with a friend of her family, Sir John Herschel, the inventor of cyanotype, gave her access to the printing technique of the cyanotype process.
In 1841, William Henry Harvey (1811 - 1866) an Irish botanist who studied algae, published A Manual of the British Marine Algae which contained extensive descriptions of the seaweeds in question but without individual illustrations. Anna Atkins undertook a photographically illustrated version of the Manual of British Algae before 1843 by using the cyanotype process to produce detailed images of the botanical specimens. Her first publication of 1843 pre-dated Talbot's Pencil of Nature of 1844. Her book entitled Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, containing 424 cyanotypes was issued in several parts over ten years.
The present project has no such encyclopedic ambitions but is constructed around a series of conceptual pieces around the central theme of endangered species, in this case, plants which are in danger of forever disappearing. Roger Kockaerts uses the cyanotype process as a reminder and a tribute to the early photographic images of Anna Atkins.
Literature: Endangered Plants, Elaine Landau, Scholastic Library Pub - 1992 - 64 pages
Endangered Plants, Jan Cerovský, Sunburst Books, - 1995 - 176 pages
Endangered Plants, D. M. Souza, Paw Prints, 2008 - 64 pages
Restoring diversity: strategies for reintroduction of endangered plants, Donald A. Falk, Margaret Olwell, Constance I. Millar, Island Press, 1996.