Cyanotypes with Photographer Rinne Allen
Such fun to meet the woman who made the images I’ve studied over and over.
She was talking cyanotypes, or what she calls light drawings. (Her light drawings are really beautiful, as you might guess.) The medium is paper treated with light-sensitive chemicals, onto which even mere mortals like me place plants or leaves, wait five minutes, rinse off the paper, and see what happens. (Invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel, it all feels very 19th century to make these.)
I thought instantly, of course, of the glass flowers at Harvard.
Not to be depressing, but I also thought about John James Audubon, who killed the birds he used as models for his paintings. I felt kind of bad, yanking out a plant just so I could capture it in a cyanotype.
But I told each plant that this would be its finest hour. It would live on forever. Hey, plantain, you’re going to be immortal!
At first I hunted for showy flowers—daylilies, sweet peas, Queen Anne’s Lace, thinking that pretty would be, you know, pretty.
But the closer I looked, the more I discovered that even the lowliest weed was fascinating. Imperfections vanish when the image is a silhouette. Tiny roots show up. You see patterns in the image that you didn’t see in the plant itself.
I went smaller and smaller. We ran out of paper just in time—I was about to get into moss spores and mushrooms.
I show you this photo of Rinne in rinse mode mostly because I admire completely what she is wearing. We should all look so Rinneful.
The randomness of what seems like a straightforward process cannot be overstated. You don’t know what you’re going to get. My two light drawings on the right are deep, saturated blue. Other efforts were more pale, more blurry, who knows why. Rinne prepared the papers for us ahead of time with a paintbrush in her darkroom, so the human hand is surely a factor.
The sun dodged in and out, adding an excellent low-key drama to it all. Will our cyanotypes work?