Anthotypes, a lost photographic process?
Anthotype is a green and sustainable photographic process that dates back to Victorian England and the birth of photography. Mostly abandoned for faster and more easily controlled processes, anthotype images are created using photosensitive material from plants.
In simple terms a sheet of paper is coated with an emulsion made from crushed plant matter. When dried an image is formed, in a contact printing process (using a positive), exposed to direct sunlight for hours or days until an image is formed by the bleaching action of the sun’s rays. The resultant image is impermanent and will gradually fade, even when stored in the dark.
A Little History
While the photo-sensitive properties of plants had been recorded previously, the light sensitive properties of plants was extensively documented by Mary Somerville a Scottish scientist who studied the effects of light on plant juices and shared her research with Sir John Herschel. Herschel methodically tested and documented the image making properties of various plants with the intention of perfecting a process for color photography. While he ultimately abandoned that effort, Herschel is credited as the inventor of the Anthotype process in 1842. In an Anthotype (from the Greek: Flower – Print) an emulsion is made from crushed plant material, including flower petals, leafy plant material or berries. A sheet of paper is coated, then dried. Material or a transparent photo positive is placed on the paper and exposed to direct full sunlight until the portion not covered is bleached out by the sun rays. The exposure time varies based on plant material, and the strength of the Sun and varies from hours, days, or even weeks. The color remains in the shadowed parts. The paper remains light sensitive, there is no processing or chemistry involved.
After almost two centuries, this once neglected process is experiencing a renaissance driven largely by its sustainability, but also embraced for its aesthetic possibilities.
Sir John Herschel’s paper “On the Action of the Rays of the Solar Spectrum on Vegetable Colors, and on Some New Photographic Processes” was published by Royal Society in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1842, Vol. 132 (1842), pp.181 – 214
A Short visualization of the Anthotype process by Paweł Kula
Scientist: A word invented for Mary Somerville…
The English academic William Whewell first put the word “scientist” into print in 1834 in a review of Mary Somerville’s On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. He coined the term Scientist in reference to “Artist” as a catch all description for people studying in a variety fields. The then officially accepted term was “Man of Science”
A Step by Step introduction to Make your own Anthotypes
Harnessing the Power of the Sun with Mary Kocol
Links to the books mentioned are include at the bottom of this page
Make your own: Step by Step Anthotype instructions prepared by Mary Kocol
“Anthotypes Today: New Metaphors, New Meaning”
A Curator, an Author and Current Practitioners share their thoughts and experiences
This international Zoom panel took place on April 2, 2022, in connection with the exhibition Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes, on view at the RI Center for Photographic Arts, Providence, RI from March 17 through April 15, 2022.
Four international speakers joined the gallery director and exhibition co-curators to share their perspectives on anthotype, a nineteenth century antiquarian photo process now experiencing a renaissance with contemporary practitioners.
The presentations and following Q & A session enhance our current understanding of the anthotype and recontextualize it for twenty-first century viewers.
This video recorded at the Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts, presents the complete panel discussion including attendee questions and comments.
The videos below provide each individual speaker’s presentation from the “Anthotypes Today: New Metaphors, New Meaning” program above
Introduction to RI Center for Photographic Arts and the Anthotype Exhibition
Managing Director of the Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts
Introduction to Anthotypes, the Exhibition and the Panelists
Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol:
Curators of Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes
Thoughts on Anthotype and Context: by Karen Haas
Lane Senior Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Author of Anthotypes: Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants, Founder of www.alternativephotography.com, Stockholm, Sweden
West Yorkshire based experimental artist, anthotypist, animator and founder of the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, Leeds, England
Session Wrap up with Questions, Answers and Thoughts on future generations.
The exhibition, curated by Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol includes work by artists:
Edd Carr, Caleb Cole, Nettie Edwards, Christine Elfman, Jesseca Ferguson,
Brittonie Fletcher, Matthias Hegemann, Mary Kocol, Paweł Kula, Scott McMahon,
Marek Noniewicz, John Opera, Francis Schanberger, DM Witman
World Anthotype Day:
August 20th, 2022 is World Anthotype Day
You are invited to participate!
This year’s theme is “Hope,” Information on participating in this first annual event organized by Malin Fabbri is available at…
Anthotype Resources from Malin Fabbri
How to make Anthotypes:
The Anthotype book:
More Resources available on YouTube:
Follow or connect…
Anthotype & Alternative Processing
silver and non silver photography
Edd Carr: The Northern Sustainable Darkroom
A short primer on making Anthotypes by Edd Carr
Follow or connect…
More : https://www.35mmc.com/author/eddcarr/
Animations from alternative process photography: https://www.analogforevermagazine.com/features-interviews/ed-carr-cyanotype-music-video
The Sustainable Darkroom:
UK-based anthotypist & gardener (has been making anthotypes since 2014)
Additional talks by Nettie Edwards: Artist in Resident
Magda Kuca, UK-based Polish photographer made this short video on making a turmeric anthotype without a contact printer, 2017
To date, the only book solely devoted to anthotypes:
- Malin Fabbri, Anthotypes: Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants, AlternativePhotography.com, 2012. Amply illustrated and full of detailed information, this informative book has jumpstarted the renaissance in making anthotypes. Available as a softcover book or on-line. https://www.alternativephotography.com/ Malin Fabbri founded and maintains this website with galleries of handmade photography (including anthotypes).
Books with chapters on anthotypes
- Luca Bendandi, editor, Experimental Photography: A Handbook of Techniques, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2015, reprinted 2018. Profusely illustrated, clear and informative “how to” section on anthotypes.
- Jill Enfield, Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes: Popular Historical and Contemporary Techniques, Focal Press, Routledge, second edition, 2020.
- Christopher James, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes, Cengage Learning, third edition, 2015. Very informative and detailed section on anthotypes.
- Nick Hall and John Elis, editors, Hands on Media History: A New Methodology in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Routledge, 2020.