A Seasonal Exploration
My project ‘Threads of Summer’ is a seasonal exploration of local plant-life foraged from the Gorleston area of Norfolk, UK, inspired by the early cyanotype cataloguing of Anna Atkins and Anne Dixon in the mid-1800s.
Cyanotypes are a traditional photography technique, sometimes known as 'blueprints' due to their rich blue color. The technique was first discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842, at a time when the early use of photography was primarily for documentation and reproduction. It was Anna Atkins, and later Anne Dixon working in collaboration together, who first explored cyanotype photography for its practical and beautiful application.
Atkins was a botanist at heart, nurtured from a young age by her father to follow her passion. When she met Henry Fox Talbot she learned of new photography techniques to document her passion. Whilst Henry Fox Talbot is widely credited for his role in pioneering photography, I think it's important to remember the important early work of women photographers.
Atkins, whilst working from the meticulous perspective of a botanist making records, her work didn't lack elegance and careful composition. She later produced a series of photo books, which will feature in her retrospective at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam this summer.
In my 'Threads of Summer' project, I created my own cyanotype photographic prints of foraged flowers, leaves and branches from my local area. The plant-life used includes roses, grasses, lavender and 'weeds' - a mixture of self-seeded, planted and wild plants growing locally. The prints are fixed onto repurposed and recycled fabrics and then traced with hand-stitching, immortalizing them beyond their natural season.
The cyanotype process involves combining dried Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate separately in water to create two solutions. Once the two solutions are combined together, they are photo-sensitive. At this point, working with the chemicals must be done in a darkroom. The photo-sensitive solution is then coated onto materials such as fabric, paper or other suitable surface by dipping or brushing, and left to dry in the dark. I find that having the objects I'm making images of (in my case, foraged plants) ready in a suitable arrangement before bringing the dried materials into the light makes the process more efficient. This is because once of the material is in the light, it will start to develop. Depending on the light quality, it can take anything from 30 seconds (bright sunlight) up to 30 minutes (over-cast/cloudy) to fully expose a print. To stop the process, simply rinse the exposed materials in clean running water for 1 minute and leave to dry/develop over 24 hours. Over the day, the blue becomes richer and deeper.
I worked into my textile-photo works further by cutting, patching and using hand-embroidery. I wanted to take the work beyond making records of local plants and into representations of the varied plant-life growing wild in my local area. This is why I chose to use textiles to make photo prints onto, rather than paper, which lends itself naturally to patch-working.
'Threads of Summer' has been regularly exhibited in the UK since it's creation and details of future exhibitions can be found on my website. Prints from the artwork as greetings cards and postcards are also available for sale.