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Anna Atkins - Artists - Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs

Unknown photographer, "Mrs. Atkins" albumen print, early 1860s. Nurstead Court Archives

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871) was the most significant early woman photographer. She is best known for her botanical publication, British Algæ: Cyanotype Impressions, 1843-1853, the first book in any field to be illustrated and printed using photography. A friend of Humphry Davy and Sir John Herschel, she used Herschel’s cyanotype process to create her Prussian blue botanical studies. Atkins, through her father John George Children, was also in direct contact with William Henry Fox Talbot, her contemporary and colleague with whom she shared excitement over the potential of photography on paper. Upon completing her botanical reference work, Atkins turned her love of the photogram towards the production of photographs of consummate visual pleasure: her cyanotypes of ferns, flowers, feathers and lace made in the 1850s are striking precursors of the expressive photography of twentieth-century and contemporary artists. 

A retrospective exhibition, Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins was held at the New York Public Library 19 October 2018 to 17 February 2019. 

Recommended reading: 
Larry J. Schaaf, Joshua Chuang ed., with Emily Walz and Mike Ware, Sun Gardens, Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins (New York Public Library, 2018).
Larry J. Schaaf, Sun Gardens, Victorian Photograms by Anna Atkins (New York: Aperture, 1985).

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