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New book collates the pioneering photographs of Anna Atkins

THESE beautifully detailed images show the remarkable legacy of Anna Atkins, a 19th-century botanist who left her stamp on science and photography with her signature “cyanotype” prints.

The selection is taken from a new book by Peter Walther, Anna Atkins. Cyanotypes, which reveals the ingenuity of Atkins, who used cyanotypes as a medium for documenting plants and algae. Her images had an unprecedented clarity and accuracy, and were produced by placing specimens onto paper coated with a light-sensitive iron salt solution. The paper was then exposed to sunlight and washed with water to fix the image.

Atkins published Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843 – the first time a book was illustrated with photographs. She published three volumes in total, of which only a handful of copies are known to exist today in museums, libraries and galleries around the world.

Anna Atkins. Cyanotypes collates more than 550 of her iconic images, which, along with representing “milestones in the history of science and media”, writes Walther, are also special due to the “timeless aesthetic appeal” of the intricate specimens contrasted against blue.

The main image is the algae Dasya coccinea, originally pictured in Photographs of British Algae Volume II. The image below that is Sphacelaria scoparia. The third image shows Lastrea foenisecii, a fern from Atkins’s Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, followed by two algae species, Rhodomenia polycarpa and Conferva gracilis, which featured in Photographs of British Algae Volume III.

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