I have spent much of my last five months outdoors, in my grandfather’s vegetable patch or amongst flowers that my mother painstakingly tends. The outside has been refreshing, especially given the lockdowns and quarantine impositions that have prevented me from leaving my home in Mumbai, India through most of this summer. I wanted to preserve this time — with family, and in history, — and so I began to experiment with cyanotype printmaking.
Cyanotyping is a photographic printing process using two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. These compounds, when combined and washed onto watercolor paper, react with UV light and change color to produce a cyan-blue print of objects placed on them. Cyanotypes, when they were first invented in the 19th century, we considered a quick and cheap way of producing prints. Today, this technique’s popularity persists even with contemporary artists who explore this medium frequently.
My interest in analog photography, and a class I took last semester on German Media Theory segued into a desire to learn more about cultural tools to see, record, and document. Cyanotypes gave me a new lens through which to look at my immediate environment — to focus on color, contour, shape, and opacity and critically think about how I see and define shapes. Next, they also allowed me to think about time in an entirely new way, considering the time it would take for a leaf to unfurl, to dry out pressed between the pages of a book, and for sunlight to create a perfect print of it; all these moments made me precisely consider how everything works in its own time, and taught me how to simply wait. Finally, the process was especially exciting to me in considering how the history of cyanotypes is so closely linked to Anna Atkins, an English botanist, credited for being the first person to publish a book with illustrated prints, and the first woman photographer. The history of this medium is central to the histories and stories of artmaking females, and I was excited to be engaging, with my very own hands, with this process and Atkins’ legacy.
Science has been, in the last year, so critical in thinking about overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. With this particular art-making process, I found a way to engage in the intersections of art, technology, science, and the natural world, using my hands to produce something I am proud of.