Beverley Thomas Critical Research Journal for Falmouth University MA Photography

This blog is being made as part of an accredited educational programme.

(Week 24) 12/11/2020

‘Photographs of British Algae.’ –

Anna Atkins

Until recently, I have become interested in the work of Anna Atkins. She was a botanist and considered to have been the first female photographer. She is well known for her cyanotype impressions of plants. Atkins learned photography through the scientific work of British inventor William Fox Talbot (I wrote about the invention of photography in a previous post.) Months after Talbot patented his photographic process, Anna and her father decided to replicate the “talbotype.” However, It was a different type of photographic process that captivated Atkins known as the cyanotype, developed by Sir John Herschel.

The process of a cyanotype produces white and blue prints, completely different to the photogram process and yet they still require the same energy to make them, the sun. Having worked with British Algae as her subject matter, she began producing cyanotypes of ferns in the same way as in her algae cyanotypes. Each fern has been laid down and each part of the plant was captured with clarity and precision.

Atkins is considered as the first person to produce a photographically illustrated book, ‘Photographs of British Algae.’ She donated the original copy in 1843 and it can be seen on the you tube channel via The Royal Society

This alternative printing medium is something that I am yet to experiment with in the future, although I am pretty confident that I will find it as enjoyable as the photograms. Cyanotype paper can be activated using chemicals or bought ready made. As I look toward delivering workshops around these alternative processes, introducing the cyanotype process will allow another type of direct engagement with nature.

As part of my work as a photography tutor involves beach visits, using Atkins as an example, my learners will have the opportunity to collect algae and make their images within the environment.

© Anna Atkins. Aspidium Lobatium 1853.
© Anna Atkins. Confervae 1843 -1845


ALTERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY. Cyanotype – the classic process. Available at [accessed 12/11/20]

GETTY>EDU. ANNA ATKINS. Available at [accessed 09/11/20]

MoMA. Anna Atkins. Available at [accessed12/11/20]

SCIENCE & MEDIA MUSEUM. Available (online) at [accessed 12/11/20]

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