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Anna Atkins (1799–1871)
image id: 419710

Anna Atkins (1799–1871)
Laminaria digitata, from: Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Part 2
[Halstead Place, Sevenoaks, England: Anna Atkins, 1843–53]
NYPL, Spencer Collection

Anna Atkins, an amateur marine botanist, was responsible for every aspect of her masterpiece, Photographs of British Algae: she collected hundreds of specimens of seaweed and identified, labeled, and made photograms of them, employing the cyanotype process now used only for blueprints. (This involved placing the specimens on chemically treated paper and exposing them briefly to the sun.) Then she put them into a series of volumes whose images hover between science and art. She made fewer than twenty copies of the whole, and gave them to scientific institutions, friends, and relations. Since she came from a prominent scientific family, this included people like the astronomer Sir John Herschel. Herschel developed the cyanotype process and communicated it to Atkins via her father; she presented this copy to him.

Other cyanotypes from Photographs of British Algae have been digitized and may be viewed on NYPL’s Digital Gallery.

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