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Anna Atkins

(1799—1871) botanist and photographic artist


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English botanist and pioneer of the photogram and photographic publishing. Daughter of the prominent scientist John George Children, Atkins was encouraged by him in her scientific interests. She was a competent watercolourist and published at least one lithograph. By 1823 her draughtsmanship and observational skills were refined enough for her to produce 200 illustrations for her father's translation of Lamarck's Genera of Shells. Botany was her particular love, especially the collection and study of seaweeds. Her father chaired the February 1839 Royal Society meeting at which Henry Talbot first revealed the manipulatory secrets of photogenic drawing. Father and daughter soon got a camera and took up the new art of photography, but Atkins's biggest contribution to it involved neither a camera nor her father. She conceived the idea of publishing a photographic record of her algae, making photograms by contact printing the dried specimens on sheets of sensitized paper. Her choice of Sir John Herschel's cyanotype process was brilliant. Iron based, inexpensive, and permanent, its characteristic blue colour proved ideal as a background for the ‘flowers of the sea’. Starting in October 1843 (the year before Talbot's Pencil of Nature), Atkins privately published Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. When this part-book was completed in September 1853, it contained more than 400 photographic plates, each a hand-sensitized cyanotype negative. Atkins continued to make cyanotype photograms, increasingly as an art from employing varied natural objects.

From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.


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