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Trying Something New: Cyanotype

For the past few months, I've been working on a project with a student from Columbia College Chicago, comprising images and text relating to a travel narrative (he's an Englishman visiting the USA for this academic year). After casting around for a suitable visual vehicle for his photos, I settled on cyanotype:

Cyanotype image of Niagara Falls, USA

This is one of the oldest of photographic techniques, dating back to the middle of the 1800s. In a nutshell: you brush a photosensitive emulsion onto paper (or fabric, etc), consisting of a mixture of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide; place either thin objects or a negative against the paper and expose it to UV light for a while; wash off the emulsion and the image develops before your eyes; dip the print into a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide to turn the print that deep, dark blue cyan colour.

As you can see from the above photo, when you get the balance of light and dark right on the negative, the result is a gorgeously rich print, with a tonality that is reminiscent of those early pioneers of photography. Compare this one from the late 1800s:

1800s cyanotype

I've discovered that there is an artist in Chicago, not too far from where I live, who makes big cyanotypes, up to 6 feet wide. Now I've been bitten by the cyanotype bug, I intend to visit her studio and post images of her process when I can.

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