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Pioneer in Blue: New Photography by Anna Atkins

Ptilota sericea by Anna Atkins
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800)

We’ve got an incredible week in the works at 20x200 and we couldn’t be more excited to get the ball rolling. What’s got us so inspired? Several days devoted to brilliant, powerful, bold, game-changing women. Kicking it all off is our 4th edition from pioneering photographer and botanist Anna Atkins—quite possibly the world’s first female photographer.

Atkins self-published her photograms in October 1843, in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, widely considered the very first book illustrated with photographic images. The book featured over 400 plates, each plate depicting different algae, and the text was handwritten. Today’s edition is a reproduction of one of those cyanotypes, plucked from the pages of that groundbreaking book.

To create her photograms, Atkins placed the specimen onto light-sensitive paper, exposed the paper and subject to sunlight, then developed the image using the cyanotype process. This process involves two chemicals—ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide—the combination of which results in a striking cyan-blue print. Though it's been around for over a century, this technique is actually staging a comeback (give The New York Times a look if you don’t believe us).

At the time Atkins captured this wee seaweed, the plant was known as Ptilota sericea. Today, we refer to it by its scientific name—Plumaria plumosa. This handsome reddish-purple algae grows 2-3 inches long and calls the North Atlantic home, cropping up along North American and European shores. As is the case with all Atkins’ work, today’s edition is a spectacular fusion of scientific study and innate artistry. This print makes a strong case for wanting algae on your walls. 

P.S. Keep your eyes on your inbox for more woman magic later this week.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200