Cyanotypes: A brief history of discovery, process and application - by Craig Keenan

Cyanotype (sīˈanəˌtīp noun Etymology: cyan- + -type : blueprint)

In 1842 Sir John Herschel came up with the process of cyanotyping as a cost effective means of reproducing notes and diagrams. A friend and colleague of his, Anna Atkins, later used the technique to produce the worlds first photographically illustrated book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

 Contact Negative Craig Keenan 55cm x 66cm  Cyanotype One Off For more info on the piece click here

Contact Negative
Craig Keenan
55cm x 66cm
Cyanotype
One Off
For more info on the piece click here

The process works on the same basis as a photogram or contact print, where a UV light sensitive emulsion is prepared and then applied to a porous substrate like paper. Once the substrate has dried, objects or a negative may be directly applied and then exposed to UV light (the sun.) After the desired exposure time is up, the paper is then stopped and fixed simply by rinsing and resting in water. Due to the nature of the chemicals used to make the emulsion the final result is Prussian blue or Cyan, hence the name.

The process caught on and became the most popular way of reproducing engineering and architectural diagrams and information, before the invention of the photocopier. And has in later years become an artful practice. A means by which someone can produce beautiful reproductive and photographic results, with a fairly simple set up.

 Falling Craig Keenan 50cm x 70cm Cyanotype Edition of 20 For more on the piece click  here

Falling
Craig Keenan
50cm x 70cm
Cyanotype
Edition of 20
For more on the piece click here

This is great way to engage with digital and analogue processes, combining the best of both worlds and doing away with the farcical debate: Which is better, analogue or digital photography? I find the only limiting factor (the fact that the results are exclusively monochromatic blue) actually quite freeing as it shapes the way I choose and frame the subject I'm working on.

Article written by Craig Keenan
Craig is a professional printmaker and picture framer with a great deal of success in both fields. Please get in touch via our contact page for further information about his artwork on sale through The Number Gallery, commissions and to be put in touch with his picture framing services.