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"The first woman to create a photograph"
Botanist and photographer
1799 03 16
1871 06 09
"The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects so minute as many of the Algae and Confervae has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves, which I have much pleasure in offering to my botanical friends."
Anna Atkins (née Children; 16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871) was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. Some sources say that she was the first woman to create a photograph.
John George Children and John Pelly Atkins were friends of William Henry Fox Talbot. Anna Atkins learned directly from Talbot about two of his inventions related to photography: the "photogenic drawing" technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper and exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes.
Atkins was known to have had access to a camera by 1841. Some sources say that Atkins was the first female photographer, while others attribute this title to Constance Fox Talbot. As no camera-based photographs by Anna Atkins, nor photographs by Constance Talbot, survive, the issue may never be resolved.
Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
A cyanotype photogram made by Atkins which was part of her 1843 book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Sir John Herschel, a friend of Atkins and Children, invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842. Within a year, Atkins 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".
Detail of title page of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Atkins self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843. She planned to provide illustrations to William Henry Harvey's A Manual of British Algae which had been published in 1841. Although privately published, with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.
Eight months later, in June 1844, the first fascicle of William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature was released; that book was the "first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published" or "the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs".
Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness. Copies are now held by the following institutions, among others:
Wikipedia, last updated 2023.03.16.
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