St. Louis Blues
By Jane Linders
14 May 2007
It might seem odd to write an article about a mid 19th century photographic process for a magazine titled JPG, but a combination of digital methods coupled with an old alternative process called cyanotypes yield photos that have one foot in the digital age and another foot 150 years in the past.
Cyanotypes, also called sun prints, are one of the oldest photographic printing processes dating back to 1842. Sir John Herschel developed this first silver less photographic process using only 2 chemicals and the sun as a light source. These sun prints are decidedly low tech as the final image of a cyanotype appears only with the aid of sunlight as a light source and water for a developer. This inexpensive, simple and permanent process was used for the blue print process for copying architectural plans, hence the name
"Blue print." The very first book of printed text and photographs by Anna Atkin used the Cyanotype process.
This process involves two stock solutions that are mixed together and coated on watercolor paper. After the paper dries, a large negative is placed over the paper and placed in the sun or a UV light source, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the day, time of year, cloud cover and density of the negative. The cyanotype print is washed in plain tap water and dried in the air. Unlike traditional prints, the texture of the watercolor paper adds interesting tonal qualities and creative dimensions to the printing process. Many 19th century processes, like Cyanotypes are making a comeback with the fine art photographers. You can see modern versions of this antique process in many art exhibits and museums around the country. This current revival of alternative processes is more than a trend. I think the attraction for these old processes is the physical involvement during the printing processes, allowing photographers to use our hands, eyes and intuition when printing. This hands on technique is much more satisfying than simply pressing a print key on a computer.
Many photographers limit themselves to digital technology, but I find it exciting to combine digital methods with photographic processes from the distant past. You can either take photos using a large format camera or make contact prints using your digital images and converting the image to a negative using Photoshop and printing them out on transparent film using an inject printer.
I am fascinated by both the simplicity and the alchemy of the Cyanotype process. This old process has changed the way I take photos. While composing a photo, I am also considering which printing technique best suits the image. My subjects are the oddities of roadside Americana and the crumbling graves of persons long gone. You may find me lurking about cemeteries in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. I an enamored of the brush strokes so typical of cyanotypes and the moody blue color intensifies the sense of loss in my cemetery images.
With Gravest Diggings,