When making a cyanotype, Atkins laid a botanical specimen on paper and used a frame and pane of glass to hold the specimen in place for a sharper image. in this case, the pod had a raised surface in comparison to the fern, and the print would have required the use of multiple panes of glass: one to compress the top of the fern, the other to compress the lower part of the fern and the raised surface of the pod. Using multiple panes of glass sacrificed the clarity of the image, as the lower glass could not sit as tightly on the page, resulting in a blur midway through the fern where the glass was not secure. Near the center of the cyanotype, a small break is apparent in the central stem of the fern. this fracture provides another clue to Atkins’s creation of this album as a hobby and gift for her friend Anne Dixon. if Atkins had been attempting to record the honey locust for scientific accuracy rather than pleasure and appearance, she would have spent more time carefully aligning the fracture to minimize its noticeability or would have found a specimen in better condition. (she may have used her husband’s connections as a landowner in Jamaica to obtain North American plants, such as the honey locust specimens.) instead, she allowed the break in the specimen to remain visible. this photogram was produced two years following the death of Atkins’s beloved father. it is not unreasonable to wonder if she may have seen beauty in the fragility of the specimen. Perhaps she reflected on the stem, thinking of the break in her household after the loss of her father, or possibly the way she looked to Dixon for support while mending her broken heart.
David Acton, stephen B. Jareckie, and Ben Charland, Photography at the Worcester Art Museum: Keeping Shadows (Worcester, MA: Worcester Art Museum, in association with snoeck, 2004), 32.
larry J. schaaf, Sun Gardens: An Exhibition of Victorian Photograms by Anna Atkins (st. Andrews, scotland: Crawford Centre for the Arts, 1988), 44. the album remained intact until its 1981 division at a sotheby’s auction: Photographic Images and Related Material (london: sotheby’s, March 29, 1985).
Edward Newman, A History of British Ferns (london: J. van voorst, 1854). see also Philip Henry gosse, The Romance of Natural History (london: James Nisbet, 1861).
Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher, eds., Ocean Flowers: Impressions from Nature (New Haven, Ct: yale University Press, 2004), 100–101. see also D. E. Allen, “the Women Members of the Botanical society of london, 1836–1856,” British Journal for the History of Science 13, no. 3 (1980): 240–54.
Carol M. Armstrong, Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843–1875 (Cambridge, MA: Mit Press, 1998), 179–276.
the fusing of the scientific and the artistic continues throughout the history of the cyanotype, as shown by other artists and works within this exhibition. one artist in particular, Frederick Coulson, takes an approach similar to Atkins. reflecting his love of botany and amateur photography, Coulson’s images of botanical subjects embrace the blue of the cyanotype as a means of enhancement, adding an ethereal quality. in particular, this blending of the scientific and artistic is visible in his image tibouchina (fig. 19). Created from a negative, this photograph shows a close-up of leaves on a plant. the delicate veining in the leaves stands out in sharp contrast to the darkest blues of the stem. the simplicity of the image harks back to Atkins’s silhouetted specimens. Coulson provided a white sheet as a backdrop for his cyanotype to limit the view to include the nearly centered subject in the way Atkins isolated her specimens on a field of Prussian blue. Both Coulson and Atkins embraced the art of science. Worcester Art Museum’s Honey locust and leaf Pod illustrates how Atkins’s cyanotypes move beyond scientific documentation and embrace an aesthetic sensibility.
Fig. 19: Frederick Coulson, American, 1869–1931, tibouchina, November 28, 1901, cyanotype, Worcester Art Museum, Eliza s. Paine Fund, 2010.271.40 39
Published on Feb 10, 2016
Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...