Anna Atkins

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Portrait of Anna Atkins, 1861

Anna Atkins (Maiden name Anna Children) (16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871[1]) was an English botanist and photographer. She is often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images.[2][3][4] Some sources claim that she was the first woman to create a photograph.[3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

She was born in' Tonbridge, Kent, England in 1799.[1] Her mother Hester Anne "didn't recover from the effects of childbirth " and died in 1800.[5] Anna became close to her father John George Children,[7] who was a scientist of many interests; for example, he was honoured by having the mineral childrenite and the Children's python, Antaresia childreni, named after him.[8] She "received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time."[9] Her detailed engravings of shells were used to illustrate her father's translation of Lamarck's Genera of Shells, which was published in 1823.[9][10]

She married John Pelly Atkins in 1825, and they moved to Halstead Place, the Atkins family home in Sevenoaks, Kent.[9] She then pursued her interests in botany, for example by collecting dried plants. These were probably used as photograms later.[9]

Photography[edit]

John George Children and John Pelly Atkins were friends of William Henry Fox Talbot.[9] Anna Atkins learned directly from Talbot about two of his inventions related to photography: the "photogenic drawing" technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes.[11][12]

Atkins was known to have had access to a camera by 1841.[9] Some sources claim that Atkins was the first female photographer.[3][4][5][6][13] Other sources name Constance Talbot, the wife of William Fox Talbot, as the first female photographer.[14][15][16] As no camera-based photographs by Anna Atkins[9] or any photographs by Constance Talbot[15] survive, the issue may never be resolved.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions[edit]

A cyanotype photogram made by Atkins which was part of her 1843 book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

Sir John Herschel, a friend of Atkins and Children, invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842.[1] Within a year, Atkins applied the process to algae (specifically, seaweed) by making cyanotype photograms that were contact printed[1] "by placing the unmounted dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper".[5]

Atkins self-published her photograms in the first instalment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843.[2] Although privately published, with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.[2][3][4][17] Eight months later, in June 1844, the first fascicle of William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature was released; that book was the "first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published"[18] or "the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs".[19]

Detail of title page of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853.[20] Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness.[21] Copies are now held by, among other institutions:[5][7]

Because of the book's rarity and historical importance, it is quite expensive. One copy of the book with 411 plates in three volumes sold for GBP 133,500 at auction in 1996.[7][20] Another copy with 382 prints in two volumes which was owned by scientist Robert Hunt (1807–1887) sold for GBP 229,250 at auction in 2004.[21]

Later life and work[edit]

Cyanotype photogram of Wood Horsetail from the 1853 book Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns by Atkins and Dixon

In the 1850s, Atkins collaborated with Anne Dixon (1799–1864), who was "like a sister" to her, to produce at least three presentation albums of cyanotype photograms:[5]

  • Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns (1853), now in the J. Paul Getty Museum.
  • Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854), disassembled pages of which are held by various museums and collectors.
  • An album inscribed to "Captain Henry Dixon," Anne Dixon's nephew (1861).

In addition, she published books with non-photographic work:[29][30]

  • Atkins, Anna. The perils of fashion. London, 1852.
  • Atkins, Anna. The Colonel. A story of fashionable life. By the author of "The perils of fashion." London: Hurst & Blackett, 1853.
  • Atkins, Anna. Memoir of J.C. Children, including some unpublished poetry by his father and himself. London: John Bowye Nichols and Sons, 1853.
  • Atkins, Anna. Murder will out. A story of real life. By the author of "The colonel," etc. London, 1859.
  • Atkins, Anna. A page from the peerage. By the author of "The colonel." London, 1863.

She died at Halstead Place in 1871 of "paralysis, rheumatism, and exhaustion" at the age of 72.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Art encyclopedia. The concise Grove dictionary of art. Anna Atkins.". Oxford University Press. 2002. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Parr, Martin; Gerry Badger (2004). The photobook, a history, Volume I. London: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-4285-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d James, Christopher (2009). The book of alternative photographic processes, 2nd edition. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4180-7372-5. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d New York Public Library (23 October 1999 – 19 February 2000). "Seeing is believing. 700 years of scientific and medical illustration. Photography. Cyanotype photograph. Anna Atkins (1799–1871).". Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Atkins, Anna; Larry J. Schaaf; Hans P. Kraus Jr. (1985). Sun gardens: Victorian photograms. New York: Aperture. ISBN 0-89381-203-X. 
  6. ^ a b Clarke, Graham (1997). The photograph. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-284248-X. 
  7. ^ a b c Ware, Mike (1999). Cyanotype: the history, science and art of photographic printing in Prussian blue. Bradford, England: National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. ISBN 1-900747-07-3. 
  8. ^ Marshall, Peter. "The pencil of nature. Part 2: Anna Atkins". About.com. Archived from the original on 25 June 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Halstead Parish Council. "Parish history: Anna Atkins". Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  10. ^ "Historic figures. Anna Atkins (1799–1871)". BBC. Archived from the original on 22 December 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  11. ^ "Ocean flowers: Anna Atkins's cyanotypes of British algae". New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  12. ^ Roger Taylor (2007). Impressed by the Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840–1860. NY, Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 287. 
  13. ^ Cumming, Laura (10 March 2002). "Things aren't what they seem. The V&A's exhibition of its vast photo archive shows how the camera can transform even the humblest object". The Observer. Retrieved 13 August 2009. 
  14. ^ Glauber, Carole (April–June 2001). "Book review. Seizing the light: a history of photography". F2 eZine. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  15. ^ a b Smith, Vivienne. "Talbot, Constance: Woman at forefront of photography". Derby Evening Telegraph. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  16. ^ Gover, C Jane (1988). The positive image: women photographers in turn of the century America. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-88706-533-3. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  17. ^ Peres, Michael R (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science, 4th edition. Amsterdam and Boston: Elsevier/Focal Press. ISBN 978-0-240-80740-9. 
  18. ^ Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department (February 2007). "Book of the month. William Henry Fox Talbot. The Pencil of Nature". Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  19. ^ "William Henry Fox Talbot: The Pencil of Nature (1994.197.1-.6)". Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  20. ^ a b "Rare book by woman pioneer goes to auction". The Guardian (London). 19 June 1996. 
  21. ^ a b c d "Anna Atkins (1799–1871), Photographs of British Algæ. Cyanotype Impressions., Robert Hunt's copy". Christie's Inc. 19 May 2004. Retrieved 13 August 2009. 
  22. ^ "Catalogue of photographically illustrated books. Atkins, Anna. Photographs of British algae. Cyanotype impressions.". British Library. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  23. ^ Genocchio, Benjamin (4 July 2004). "Art review; Where art and botany coupled, photography evolved". New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  24. ^ "Works of art. Photographs. Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  25. ^ "Catalog entry for Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions". New York Public Library. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  26. ^ "NYPL digital gallery. Browse source titles. Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions". New York Public Library. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  27. ^ "Still life". Royal Society. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  28. ^ "Catalog entry for Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions". The Linnean Society of London. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  29. ^ Boase, Frederic (1908). "Atkins, Anna". Modern English biography. Volume IV. Truro, England: Netherton and Worth. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  30. ^ "New general catalog of old books and authors. Author names starting with At". Retrieved 11 August 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Armstrong, Carol; Catherine de Zegher (2004). Ocean flowers: impressions from nature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11948-1. 

External links[edit]