Anna Atkins is often considered the first photographer. While she was not the first to ever take a photograph, she was the first to publish a book with photographs as the primary means of conveying information. This makes her work some of the earliest examples of what we would now consider “art.” Here’s a look at her life and work.
Anna was born in Kent, England in 1799. Her father, a respected scientist of the Royal Society, believed daughters could do anything a son could and so he lovingly fostered her interest in botany, nature and eventually photography. She grew up to become a successful botanist and would study and illustrate specimens meticulously to capture their fine detail.
Through her father’s contacts at the Royal Society, Atkins learnt of the cyanotype process, published by Sir John Hershel in 1842. Inspired, she began experimenting with cyanotype photography—a process whereby images are produced by contact printing objects onto treated paper—and quickly became quite skilled at it. In 1843, she produced one of the world’s first photographic books, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. This ground-breaking work featured more than 400 illustrations of algae specimens that Anna had collected, pressed and create cyanotype photograms of herself. She produced an estimated 12-20 copies of the book by hand, making it one of the rarest books in the world.
Anna continued to produce photographic books throughout her life but never sought public recognition for her work. In fact, many people were unaware that she was even the author of Photographs of British Algae until after her death in 1871. Today, however, she is widely recognized as an innovator and respected for her significant contribution to the history of photography. Her work continues to inspire artists and scientists alike and serves as a reminder that even the simplest things can be beautiful when seen through the lens of a camera.
Anna Atkins is best known for being the first person to publish a book with photographs as the primary means of conveying information; however, she was much more than just a photographer. She was also an accomplished botanist whose work provided valuable insight into the world of algae and ferns. Though she passed away nearly 150 years ago, her legacy continues to live on through her groundbreaking work which serves as an inspiration to artists and scientists alike.
Oh what a dream it would be to see one of these books. Watch the video below to see one of the few known currently in Rijks Museum. i just about cried watching this. But that’s just me – I’m very attached to the process especially for botany
To read more about Anna Atkins, head to this great article by The Guardian