August 08, 2007

Coffee-stained cyanotypes

Sometimes, you put a question out to the universe and something marvelous comes back. Just last week, I featured DIY Maven's neat-o method for antiquing paper using instant coffee. I mused about how cool it would be to dye photographs using coffee. Ersatz sepia. (Read the original post here.)

Then I got an email from my friend Bob. Turns out his brother makes his own cyanotypes. Then he dyes them in wine. Or he dyes them in coffee.

The result is spooky-cool, and the images look like they've washed up from another era. Those hauntingly beautiful plastic hummingbirds you see above are just one example. There's even an El Camino, be still my heart. Check out Mark's photography blog.

What is a cyanotype?

To create a cyanotype all you need is two chemicals, negative film, sunlight and water. The two chemicals dissolved in water become a photo-sensitive solution that you paint onto paper. After exposure to UV rays and rinsing in water, the two chemicals react in such a way that you are left with a permanent dye called Prussian Blue.

If you've ever seen a vintage blueprint, you've seen a cyanotype.

The process was discovered in 1842, but it didn't become photography until Anna Atkins got her hands on it a year later. Ms. Atkins -- a scientist who is credited as the first female photographer -- created a limited series of cyanotypes by pressing ferns and other botanical specimens onto the light sensitive paper and exposing them to sunlight.

Read more about cyanotypes in (on?) The Wiki.

[Photo Credits: Mark Hemauer, Anna Atkins cyanotypes via wikipedia.]


Anonymous said...

Interestingly you can also use coffee as a developer for black and white films.

egg to the apples said...


Thanks for the kind words, it is nice to be noticed.


p.s. your blog is awesome!

Sally J. said...

Mark, I'm head over heels in love with your hummingbird image. Do you ever sell your work? Barter it? Loan it out? Please let me know! My email address is in my blogger profile...

Anon, neat idea about trying various household items as photo developers. I learned that coffee has protein. Who knew?