Posts Tagged ‘Victorian England

23
Dec
18

Exhibition: ‘Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins’ at The New York Public Library, New York

Exhibition dates: 28th September 2018 – 6th January 2019

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799–1871), Snowden - from the Inn Garden at Capel Curig from an album of watercolors, 1835-63

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Snowden – from the Inn Garden at Capel Curig from an album of watercolours
1835-63

 

 

Anna Atkins photographs are remarkable when you consider that

  1. Some sources claim that Atkins was the first female photographer
  2. She learnt directly from William Henry Fox Talbot about two of his inventions relating to photography: the “photogenic drawing” technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitised paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes
  3. She learnt the cyanotype process a year after its invention by Sir John Herschel, a friend of the Atkins family, and then applied the process to algae (specifically, seaweed) by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed “by placing the unmounted dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper”
  4. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images: the self-published book of her cyanotype photograms in the first instalment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843 (Wikipedia)

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The date is incredibly early, eight months before June 1844, when the first fascicle of William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature was released; that book being the “first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published” or “the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs.” (Wikipedia)

What is interesting to me is not just Atkins choice of the new medium of photography to describe, both scientifically and aesthetically, the beauty and detail of her collection of seaweeds; but within that new medium of photography, she chose not the photogenic or calotype process, but the graphic cyanotype process with its vivid use of the colour blue, a ‘means of reproducing notes and diagrams, as in blueprints’.

Here we have a process that reproduces reality as in a diagram, a diagrammatic process that is then doubly reinforced when Atkins places her specimens directly on the cyanotype paper producing a photogram, a photographic image made without a camera. The resultant negative shadow image shows variations in tone that are dependent upon the transparency of the objects used. (Wikipedia)

Atkins photographs, produced “with great daring, creativity, and technical skill” are “a groundbreaking achievement in the history of photography and book publishing.” While Atkins’ books can be seen as the first systematic application of photography to science, each photograph used for scientific study or display of its species or type, there is a much more holistic creative project going on here.

Can you imagine the amount of work required to learn the calotype process, gather your thoughts, photograph the specimens, make the prints, write the text to accompany the images, and prepare the number of volumes to self-publish the book, all within a year? For any artist, this amount of concentrated, focused work requires an inordinate amount of time and energy and, above all, a clear visualisation of the outcome that you want to achieve.

That this was achieved by a woman in 1843, “in contrast to the constraints experienced by women in Victorian England,” makes Atkins achievement of scientific accuracy, ethereal beauty and sublime transcendence in her photographs truly breathtaking.

Marcus

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Many thankx to The New York Public Library for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) came of age in Victorian England, a fertile environment for learning and discovery. Guided by her father, a prominent scientist, Atkins was inspired to take up photography, and in 1843 began making cyanotypes – a photographic process invented just the year before – in an effort to visualise and distribute information about her collection of seaweeds. With great daring, creativity, and technical skill, she produced Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first book to be illustrated with photographs, and the first substantial application of photography to science. Ethereal, deeply hued, and astonishingly detailed, the resulting images led her and her friend Anne Dixon to expand their visual inquiry to flowering plants, feathers, and other subjects. This exhibition draws upon more than a decade of careful research and sets Atkins and her much-admired work in context, shedding new light on her productions and showcasing the distinctive beauty of the cyanotype process, which is still used by artists today.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins' at The New York Public Library

 

Installation view of the exhibition Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins at The New York Public Library

 

 

British Algae

Intended as a reference guide to native seaweeds, Anna Atkins Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was the first book in any field – and in any country – to be printed using photography to replace typesetting and conventional means of illustration. The graphic appeal of British Algae makes it tempting to view its contents as a form of decorative yet austere botanical art. Beauty, however, was not the only aim of its author, who sought to apply a new technology to circulate precise descriptions of her collection of seaweeds. Created at the height of the natural history mania that swept England, British Algae remains an enduring union of the expressive potential of photography and the pursuit to fathom the mysteries of the natural world. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins' at The New York Public Library

Installation view of the exhibition 'Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins' at The New York Public Library

Installation view of the exhibition 'Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins' at The New York Public Library

Installation view of the exhibition 'Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins' at The New York Public Library

 

Installation view of the exhibition Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins at The New York Public Library

 

 

The Legacy of Pioneering Victorian Photographer Anna Atkins Celebrated in Dual Exhibitions at The New York Public Library

Anna Atkins’s influential photographs to be shown concurrently with an installation of works by contemporary artists guided by Atkins’s cyanotype imagery and process.

The work of Anna Atkins, one of the earliest woman photographers, is the impetus behind two complementary exhibitions opening this fall at The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Celebrating the 175th anniversary of the debut of her landmark book, Photographs of British Algae, the exhibitions examine Atkins’s life and work, as well as her ongoing legacy. Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins – the first full survey of Atkins’s major projects to be assembled – examines Atkins’s achievements, situating them within the context of her time; Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works testifies to the resonance of her photographs for artists today.

In contrast to the constraints experienced by women in Victorian England, Atkins conceived, printed, and published Photographs of British Algae, a groundbreaking achievement in the history of photography and book publishing. Carried out between 1843 and 1853, British Algae was the first book illustrated solely by the nascent medium of photography, and the first systematic application of photography to science. Each page of the seminal volume was hand-printed exclusively using the cyanotype, or blueprint, process. Nearly a century later, the timeless appeal of her cyanotypes – known for their deep blue colour – was rediscovered by historians and artists who have recognised her contributions in the field of photography.

Blue Prints explores Atkins’s training, her artistic and scientific pursuits, and her timely embrace of the new medium of photography. Featuring seldom-seen letters, artefacts from family and museum archives, and rare cyanotype volumes depicting various species of seaweeds, and later, ferns, flowering plants, and feathers – the exhibition also highlights the key roles played by Atkins’s scientist father as well as by Sir John Herschel and William Henry Fox Talbot, pivotal figures in the invention of photography, in cultivating her ambitions.

Opening October 19 in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery, Blue Prints includes items such as:

  • Comparative copies of her book Photographs of British Algae, including Atkins’s presentation copy to Sir John Herschel, the inventor of the cyanotype process
  • The only three known portraits of Anna Atkins
  • A rare album of watercolours, a gift from Atkins to her husband
  • An album presented by Anne Dixon, a collaborator of Atkins’s, to her nephew Henry Dixon in 1861, the only cyanotype album known to depict subjects other than algae or ferns

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In addition to the Library’s exhibition dedicated to the work of Atkins, the Schwarzman Building will also display recent photographs and video by current artists reflecting the spirit of Atkins’s cyanotype images, her methodical approach, and her preoccupation with nature. This exhibition includes pieces from the mid-1990s through the present by a diverse group of international artists, several of whom have created installations expressly for this exhibition. These contemporary works range from experimental cyanotypes and photograms to time-based digital media. Anna Atkins Refracted opens on September 28 in the Rayner Special Collections Wing and Print Gallery on the third floor. Visitors can access audio commentary from select artists about their works and Atkins’ influence on their art through the Library’s website.

Exhibited artists include: Roy Arden, Erica Baum, Eric William Carroll, Susan Derges, Liz Deschenes, Kathleen Herbert, Katherine Hubbard, Mona Kuhn, Owen Kydd, María Martínez-Cañas, Meghann Riepenhoff, Alison Rossiter, Ulf Saupe, Lindy Smith, Kunié Sugiura, Penelope Umbrico, Mike Ware, Letha Wilson, Ellen Ziegler

Coinciding with these exhibitions, the Library will be publishing two books that attest to Atkins’s photographic achievements. One is an expanded edition of Larry J. Schaaf’s Sun Gardens, an in-depth study of Atkins’s work that first established her historical and artistic significance. The other is a facsimile of the Library’s copy of Photographs of British Algae, which is being produced by Steidl Verlag.

Blue Prints is co-organized by Joshua Chuang, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Associate Director for Art, Prints and Photographs, and The Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography and Larry J. Schaaf, independent scholar, with Emily Walz, Librarian, Art and Architecture

Anna Atkins Refracted is co-curated by Joshua Chuang, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Associate Director for Art, Prints and Photographs, and The Robert B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography and Elizabeth Cronin, Assistant Curator of Photography.

Press release from The New York Public Library

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Laminaria phyllitis', from Part V of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1844-1845

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Laminaria phyllitis, from Part V of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1844-1845
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799–1871), 'Furcellaria fastigiata', from Part IV, version 2 of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1846

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Furcellaria fastigiata, from Part IV, version 2 of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1846 or later
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Alaria esculenta', from Part XII of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1849-1850

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Alaria esculenta, from Part XII of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1849-1850
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state & in fruit', from Part XI of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1849-1850

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state & in fruit, from Part XI of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1849-1850
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Nitophyllum gmeleni', from Part XI of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1849-1850

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Nitophyllum gmeleni, from Part XI of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1849-1850
Cyanotype
New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, Spencer Collection

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Grateloupia filicina', from Part IX of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1848-1849

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Grateloupia filicina, from Part IX of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1848-1849
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Halyseris polypodioides', from Part XII of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1849-1850

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Halyseris polypodioides, from Part XII of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1849-1850
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) 'Ulva latissima', from Volume III of 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' 1853

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)
Ulva latissima, from Volume III of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
1853
Cyanotype
Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and Anne Dixon (1799-1864) 'Papaver rhoeas', from a presentation album to Henry Dixon 1861

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and Anne Dixon (1799-1864)
Papaver rhoeas, from a presentation album to Henry Dixon
1861
Cyanotype
Private collection, courtesy of Hans P. Kraus Jr., New York

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and Anne Dixon (1799-1864) 'Peacock', from a presentation album to Henry Dixon 1861

 

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and Anne Dixon (1799-1864)
Peacock, from a presentation album to Henry Dixon
1861
Cyanotype
Private collection, courtesy of Hans P. Kraus Jr., New York

 

Unknown artist. 'Anna Children' c. 1820

 

Unknown artist
Anna Children
c. 1820
Pencil
From the Nurstead Court Archives

 

Unknown photographer. 'Portrait of Anna Atkins' c. 1862

 

Unknown photographer
Portrait of Anna Atkins
c. 1862
Albumen print
From the Nurstead Court Archives

 

 

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
New YorkNY10018
Phone: (917) 275-6975

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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