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Fig. 4: Arthur Wesley Dow, American, 1857-1922, Haystack, about 1900, cyanotype, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. gift of Philio Wigglesworth Cushing and Henry Coolidge Wigglesworth from the collection of their parents Frank and Anne Wigglesworth in memory of their love for ipswich. M. and M. Karolik Fund and Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, 2006.1277.93

Fig. 5: Arthur Wesley Dow, American, 1857-1922, Haystack (variant), about 1900, cyanotype, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. gift of Philio Wigglesworth Cushing and Henry Coolidge Wigglesworth from the collection of their parents Frank and Anne Wigglesworth in memory of their love for ipswich. M. and M. Karolik Fund and Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, 2006.1277.94

While the cyanotype’s blue color appeared dissonant when placed alongside other photographic processes, it was the reprographic function of the cyanotype as blueprint that situated the ferroprussiate process at the edge of, or even outside of, the realm of early photography. to borrow from ludwig Wittgenstein, if meaning is in its use, the blueprinting process was akin to today’s photocopier.15 Able to produce multiple copies of a text, drawing, or image, both the blueprint and the photocopy continue to be recognized as producing reproductions—not photographs—even though both are dependent on light-sensitive technology.16 Although all negative-based photography possessed the capability of producing multiples, the cyanotype, unlike emulsion processes, existed within scientific fields solely as a tool for duplication. the pedestrian usage of the cyanotype as copier interfered with early attempts to cultivate a perception of photography as art worthy.

the glaring omission of the cyanotype from the first histories of the cyanotype—notably, Newhall’s—is all the more striking given the overwhelming popularity of the medium in the last twenty-five years. Due to a complex combination of distaste for cyanotype’s blue tonality as well as anxiety about its reproductive reach, the medium’s status as photograph remained unclear at the turn of the century. Negative-based cyanotype photographs became associated with a kind of facsimile production that undermined attempts to legitimize photography as “authentic” and worthy of the designation as fine art. if the cyanotype could not be conclusively labelled a photograph, exclusion from early historical accounts of photography logically followed. As a result, the disappearance of the cyanotype from the earliest attempts to define a canon point to one of the first identity crises in photography’s adolescence.

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Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and Kristina Wilson, A...

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and Kristina Wilson, A...