Remembering Anna Atkins, author of the first photographically illustrated book

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Strut 16, 2017 /Photography News/ Born 218 years ago today, on Walk 16, 1799, Anna Atkins (maiden name Anna Children) was the first man to print and publish her own book illustrated entirely by photography.
Instead of ancestral letterpress printing, the book’s handwritten text and illustrations were made by the cyanotype method. Atkins printed and published Part I of British Algae in 1843 and in doing so back up photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration.

Atkins learned presently about the invention of photography through her correspondence with its inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot. Although she owned a camera, she acclimatized only the cameraless photogenic drawing technique to produce all of her botanical incarnations. With the assistance of Anne Dixon, Atkins created albums of cyanotype photogenic plans of her botanical specimens. She learned the cyanotype printing method through its inventor, the astronomer and scientist Sir John Herschel, a mnage friend. 

Anna Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impresses between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies of the book are recalled to exist, in various states of completeness. Copies are now held by, among other doctrines: 

  • British Library, London
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • New York Openly Library
  • Royal Society, London, whose copy with 403 calls and 389 plates is thought to be the only existing copy of the book as Atkins mean
  • Victoria & Albert Museum London houses a number of original farms in their library

Because of the book’s rarity and historical importance, it is unreservedly expensive. One copy of the book with 411 plates in three masses sold for GBP 133,500 at auction in 1996. Another copy with 382 stamps in two volumes which was owned by scientist Robert Hunt (1807-1887) supplied for GBP 229,250 at auction in 2004.

Atkins was known to have had access to a camera by 1841. Some sources demand that Atkins was the first female photographer, while other authorities name Constance Talbot, the wife of William Fox Talbot, as the first female photographer. As no camera-based photographs by Anna Atkins or any photographs by Constance Talbot last, the issue may never be resolved.

 

[Titlepage]. 419632. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype marks. / Part I. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Delesseria sinuosa. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype impacts. / Part V. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Himanthalia lorea. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype ideas. / Part I. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Cystoseria granulata. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype marks. / Part I. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Cystoseira fibrosa. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype influences. / Part II. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Laminaria digitata. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype fancies. / Part II. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Furcellaria fastigiata. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype satires. / Part IV, version 2. The New York Public Library. Spencer Accumulation.
Asperococcus Turneri. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype send-ups. / Part V. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Delesseria sanguinea. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype impacts. / Part V. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.
Fucus ceranoides. Atkins, Anna — Photographer. 1843-53. Photographs of British algae: cyanotype beliefs. / Part II. The New York Public Library. Spencer Collection.

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