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Anna Atkins - Photography Poineer

Find out more about Anna Atkins, who is called the first female photographer by some.

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Anna Atkins 

Today is the 216th birthday of Anna Atkins, who is said to be the world's first female photographer. Images in academic text books and studies are a given in this day and age, helping to illustrate and explain complex topics to adults and children alike. 

Atkins is often considered the first person to have published a book illustrated with photographic images. Her father, John George Children, was a chemist zoologist and mineralogist who is famous for discovering a way to extract silver without the need for mercury which was adopted by several American mining companies.  He enabled her to gain an education in scientific processes superior to many other women of the time. He was also friendly with Henry Fox Talbot, and Atkins was able to gain knowledge about his two recently released inventions that are related to photography - a photogenic drawing technique and calotypes, using paper coated with silver iodide.

There is some argument as to whether the process Atkins eventually used to capture her images was truly photography, as they are actually photograms. These are created by placing an object on cyanotype paper which is light sensitive and then leaving it for a period of time, allowing an imprint to be left where the object lay. 

The result is a negative shadow image that can show variations in tone depending on the transparency of the objects used. Atkins used this technique to create photograms of seaweed and self - published them in a book called 'Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions' in October of 1843. This book, although handwritten and with an extremely limited number of copies is classed as the first book illustrated with photographic images.

Atkins went on to produce three volumes of the book, and now only 17 copies of the book are known of, and each of them is in various stages of completeness. These are held by several institutions in the UK and New York, including the British Library and New York Public Library.

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