Anthotypes and cyanotypes are a type of photographic printing invented in the mid 19th century by the scientist and the Renaissance man of the day sir John Herschel. It was the time when lots of other printing processes and indeed photography itself were being elaborated.
What is anthotype printing?
Anthotype prints. The print on the left is made using beetroot juice, and the print on the right is made with a mixture of tumeric, raspberry, strawberry and beetroot juice
It is one of the slowest and most natural ways of photo printing. You only need a plant pigment, a piece of paper and the sun. Essentially, it is sun bleaching the colourful pigments that you’ve coated the paper with.
The process is quite simple:
Find any plant, a vegetable, fruit, berry, flower that you'd like to use colour of. If it's a fruit or a vegetable, you can use a juicer to get the juice out.
If it's a berry or a flower, you can use a blender or pestle and mortar. Flowers tend to be a bit dry, so you might need to add some water, or vodka.
Once you've extracted the pigment/juice, pour it through a muslin cloth or sieve to get rid of the pulp.
Coat paper with the extracted juice and leave it to dry in the darkest place you can find in your house.
Then place a flat object or a transparency film on top of the coated paper, cover it with a glass and fasten with binder clips. Leave it in the sun for as long as it takes.
Unlike other printing processes anthotypes have never gained much following. It is a very slow process which might take hours, days or weeks to print. The results aren’t as satisfying if you are after sharp photos with good contrast. But the slowness of the process is what makes anthotype printing so special.
It is a way of completely slowing down and letting the elements and nature do its work, no chemistry included. In a way, it is time captured, as you can observe how with passing days the colours fade away, just like with painted houses or signs that loose their colours over time.
Anthotype printing makes you notice changes in light and seasons throughout the year. If you are using natural light for printing, it will make you notice how the sun moves across your house and your garden during the day and how that changes from winter to autumn. You will open your eyes to the natural dye world and will be surprised how many natural dyes are growing (or sitting your the fridge and freezer) around you.
What is cyanotype printing?
A cyanotype print of a photo
Cyanotypes are iron based prints, that, traditionally, are made using ferric amonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, which when mixed and exposed to light create a beautiful dark blue. It is a simple and easy way of creating beautiful. Cyanotype prints commercially were first used in the 19th century for industrial drawings used by engineers and builders. This is when the term 'blue print' was coined. Anna Atkins was one of the first photographers to use cyanotype printing and is considered one of the first female photographers. She did a series of cyanotype photograms documenting British seaweeds, ferns, feathers.
As mentioned before, the cyanotype printing process is very simple:
You need a piece of fairly thick paper, no less than 250g in weight.
Mix ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide in equal amounts
Coat the paper with the mixed solution and leave it to dry in the dark
When the paper has dried as the objects on top of it. Flat objects such as feather, flower, leaves work best. Plants and objects with more texture will provide more interesting results
If you would like to print a photo, you will require a negative of the same size as the final print.
Choose a photo you'd like to print, and turn it into black and white if a photo is in colour.
Then flip it horizontally and then invert it, so that dark parts appear bright and the bright parts are dark.
This is your negative.
Take a transparency sheet (you can buy them online) and print the photo. Put is face down on a coated paper, and the glass on top and leave in the sun for around 15 minutes. Then wash it in a running water for a few minutes.
Cyanotype prints will fade in time, but you can restore them by putting them in the dark for a couple of days.