The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson; illustrated by Fiona Robinson

The Blues of BluesThe Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson; illustrated by Fiona Robinson. 2019. “Montages of pencil drawings, watercolor paintings, vintage fabrics and wallpapers, wood veneers, and photographs.” Published by Abrams.

Brief summary: Anna and her father press flowers and collect  insects in Kent, England sometime in 1807. John Children has only one child, Anna, and is determined to give her the best education possible by home schooling her, since girls rarely went to school especially to learn about science.

Anna grew up to become a botanist often sketching her own specimens. Her father translates French scientific journals to English and needs 250  illustrations for a series he just finished called Lamarck’s Genera of Shells. Anna illustrates the various shells.

Anna marries and moves to London. Anna wants to attend the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge but women are not allowed. Her father shares the lectures with her. She wants to find a way to share her knowledge of the extensive herbarium she has collected. She is given membership to the Royal Botanic Society in London during 1839.

In 1841, Anna and her father learn how to take photographs. They visit Sir John Herschel where he shares how he has discovered the cyanotype print that does not need a camera to make a quick image in blue (due to the chemicals used). Anna decides to use this method and creates a book of her seaweed* which is completed in 1843. Her father shares her books with several of the scientific museums.

Comments: The color of this book and its pages are all done in blues. The end pages have labeled cyantypes of various plants.  In the back of the book, there is an author’s note, instructions of how to make your own cyanotype, bibliography, institutions holding Anna’s Cyanotypes, acknowledgements, illustration credits, and a detailed explanation of the mediums used for the book.

This book could be used for biography reports, a science and art class collaboration(students collecting specimens and then making their own cyanotype), and Women’s History Month in March.

Personal note: As I am reading this book, I am reminded of how unique it was for Anna to have a father who valued the intellect of his daughter and educated her to become a  botanist. Even with all of her work with creating and recording her specimens in several books of cyanotypes, she is not given due credit. She wrote a biography about her father and a book titled Photographs of British Algae. She did not use her name but her initials A.A. which were taken for many years as “anonymous author.”

I paused and thought several times during this book of how many other women with wonderful scientific minds were ignored during this time period because of the  prejudices towards women.

*Note: The author does not know for sure what the subject matter was for Anna’s first cyanotype.

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