- Abha Indurkar
In today’s world vast majority of people are photographers. What with modern android phones with cameras, accompanied with an undying impetus to upload photos on Facebook and other social media profiles, the instances of clicking photos are so commonplace now that the oxford dictionary added a word ‘selfie’ for it. In such time it is hard to contemplate the world without photographs and that is why this is the most appropriate time to pay our tribute to the lady who is known as first lady to create a photograph, who set the trend of photography. Yes, I am talking about none other than Anna Atkins, the first woman to create photographs.
Anna Atkins was an English botanist and photographer. Atkins was born in Kent, southern England, on March 16, 1799. A new Google Doodle features images of leaves reminiscent of the Anna’s profound contribution to photography to celebrate her birthday. She is often considered to be the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images.
Her mother Hester Anne Children, died while giving birth to her. Anna became close to her father John George Children, who was a scientist of many interests. Anna received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time and pursued her interests in botany. Atkins self-published her photographs in the first instalment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843.
It is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images. The method Atkins used for developing photos is called the Cyanotype technique. The cyanotype photogram was produced by placing the dried-algae original directly on the cyanotype paper. It is an iron-based chemical method that creates a white image appearing on a blue background. Exposure to sunlight is required for the process to work correctly, hence known as ‘sun-printing.’
Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness. Through her career, Atkins collected hundreds of specimens and in 1865 she donated her entire collection to the British Museum. She died at Halstead Place in 1871 of paralysis, rheumatism, and exhaustion at the age of 72.
Her contributions established photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration. Atkins's work showed how the new medium could overcome, the difficulty of making accurate drawings of minute objects. Her contributions till date stand as an important and generally overlooked milestone in the history of both photography and scientific illustration.