Old Photographic Technology Makes a Limited Comeback
(p. C1) The Phoenix artist Annie Lopez wanted to stand out among her contemporary peers. Instead of trying to invent something utterly new, she has been turning to a 174-year-old photographic printing process -- cyanotypes, once used for copying architectural drawings -- and giving it her own distinctive twist.
Ms. Lopez created a dress pattern cut from tamale wrapping paper and printed all over with cyanotypes, which have a distinctly cyan-blue color. She printed the cyanotypes herself, in a process that took about 25 minutes per sheet of images. No darkroom was needed.
That ease has brought cyanotypes roaring back to relevance, attracting a surprising number of true-blue adherents showing their work in galleries.
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(p. C2) Anna Atkins, considered by many to be the first female photographer and the first person to create a book of photo-based images, blended science and art in botanical cyanotypes, starting in the 1840s. Atkins's "Honey Locust Leaf and Pod" (circa 1854) is featured in the Worcester show.
The fine-art application was scarce for more than a century after Atkins's day -- rare enough that Steichen once called his use of cyanotypes a "secret" in a letter to his friend and mentor Alfred Stieglitz. For fine artists, it was often considered an "ugly stepchild" of the larger medium, Ms. Burns said, "because it was too easy."
Amateurs embraced cyanotypes more easily. "In terms of popular usage they were big until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and women's periodicals were giving people instructions on how to make them," Ms. Burns said. "But then they fell off the map of photography."
Well into the 20th century, the long-dormant medium was awakened by artists looking for something different.
"As of the 1960s, people started to be interested in reviving old photo processes," said Dusan Stulik, a former senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute who has studied cyanotypes for decades. "Cyanotypes handle subtle light well, and they are fairly sturdy."
On a gut level, cyanotypes produce a result that is universal. "The color blue strikes some chord in us that goes beyond words," said the San Francisco photography dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel. "It's that simple."
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(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016, and has the title "Cyanotype, Photography's Blue Period, Is Making a Comeback.")