Like her friend William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of paper photography, Anna Atkins was a serious botanist who recognized the potential of the new medium to accurately record the form and structure of plants. Following Talbot’s lead, she placed her specimens directly on sensitized paper, covered them with glass, and set them in the sun; wherever the sunlight hit, the paper darkened, and wherever the plant blocked the rays of the sun, the paper remained white. Atkins used the cyanotype process, a relatively simple procedure that yielded prints in striking shades of Prussian blue. Far more systematic than Talbot in her use of photography in the service of botany, she spent a decade self-publishing bound volumes of artistically arranged cyanotype photograms of algae, ferns, and flowering plants comprising hundreds of individual images.


  • Title: Pteris aquilina
  • Creator: Anna Atkins
  • Creator Lifespan: 1799 - 1871
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Date Created: 1851
  • Physical Dimensions: w24.4 x h33.5 cm (image)
  • Type: Photograph
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Cyanotype
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Manfred Heiting Collection

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