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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Anna Atkins

Names:
Born: Anna Children 
Dates:  1799, 16 March - 1871
Born:  Great Britain, England, Kent, Tonbridge
Active:  Great Britain
 
  
In 1841 an Irish botanist William Henry Harvey (1811-1866) published A Manual of the British Algae (London: John Van Voorst) which lacked any illustrations. Anna Atkins knew of the cyanotype process through her family acquaintance Sir John Herschel and she recognised that it could provide illustrations of the specimens. She employed the cyanotype process for the first book in the world illustrated entirely with photographs - British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843 onwards).
 
Collaborating with Anne Dixon a further, and rarer, publication was privately published Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns. As each cyanotype was created by hand the quality of the prints varied and at times improved versions were supplied to replace earlier ones. This means that the numbers of plates in the different copies varies considerably.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Anna Atkins
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Anna Atkins produced the first photographically illustrated book and is recognised as the first female photographer, with her three-volume British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions appearing in instalments from 1843. Atkins used the Cyanotype process which had been invented in 1842 by Fox Talbotís associate Sir John Herschel. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Approved biography for Anna Atkins
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
Talbot immediately saw the intimate connection between photography and the printed page; his 1844 publication of The Pencil of Nature was a vivid demonstration. Nearly a year before this, however, Anna Atkins had begun publishing the first book illustrated with actual photographs, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, which would be issued in parts over a span of ten years. Its thousands of plates were actual blueprint photograms; each was an original cyanotype negative, printed directly from dried seaweed at her home of Sevenoaks, near London. An illustrator and serious amateur botanist, Atkins was a friend of Sir John Herschel and his family. Her father, John George Children, chaired the Royal Society meeting at which Talbot first disclosed the working details of photogenic drawing. Atkins and her father received a tutorial and examples of calotypes directly from Talbot. None of Atkinsís calotypes are known to have survived, but thousands of her original cyanotype photograms are still in fine condition, most in copies of British Algae; more diverse subject matter is preserved in albums. A few of these are still intact, but others have more recently been broken up. 
  
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Further research

 
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Unidentified photographer
Anna Atkins 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

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Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

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Anna Atkins 
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org ... 
Photographs of British algae: cyanotype impressions. 
  
Biography of Anna Atkins 
http://www.getty.edu ... 
Getty website 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Anna Atkins.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.16-17 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.24-27] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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