Specific Portrait Types: Cyanotype

Figure 1.--This is a cyanotype snapshot printed as a postcard in 1908. The boy is Sam McGowan. We do not know where he is from in the United States. Sam wears a wide-brimmed hat, blouse and knee pants. As it is summer he going barefoot.

Early English photographer, Sir John Herschel, invented the cyanotype photographic process (1842). It uses Prussian blue in a process best known today as architect's blueprints. A Cyanotype print is easily identified for its blue color. It is a very primitive process using iron salts for printing. The standard cyanotype recipe is basically unchanged from the process developed by Herschel, although photo processing experimenters have made minor improvements. Some technicians refer to the Cyanotype II process. The Cyanotype process involves two basic solutions. Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed with water separately and then blended together. The solution is then used to soak an absorbent material (paper, card, textiles or other canvas) meant for an image and allowed to try in the dark. The canvas is then exposed through the negative. While the process was developed in the 1840s, we do not many notice 19th century American cyanotype prints. Perhaps they were more common in Btitain. We do note American Cyanotype snapshots in the early-20th century before World War I. One source reports Cynotype postcards available (1900-14). [Ware, p. 89.] Our experience is that post-card back photographs appeard about 1904-04. The snapshot here of Sam McGowan is a good example (figure 1). We notice another boy, Ned Laufer, wearing a white tunic suit about the same time. We do not know why cynotypes suddenly appeared at this time or disappeared after World War I. . There were regular cyno-type prints (1890s). Nor do we know any special attributes of Cyanotypes other than people may have liked the blue color. We do not notice studio Cyanotype portraits.


Ware, Mike. Cyanotype: The History, Science and Art of Photographic Printing in Prussian Blue (National Museum of Photography, Film & Television).


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Created: 12:44 AM 3/31/2008
Last updated: 6:19 AM 11/10/2012