What Was the Subject of the World’s First Photographically-Illustrated Book?

English botanist Anna Atkins was the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images, but she didn’t use a camera. In 1843, building upon the recent discovery of cyanotype photography, she produced detailed scientific images by placing objects on light-sensitized paper and exposing them to sunlight. Her main interest at the time was algae -- in particular, seaweed -- and she made hundreds of cyanotype photograms that were contact-printed for her self-published 1843 book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

Seeing nature in a different light:

  • Some call Atkins the world’s first female photographer, but others dispute that accolade because she didn’t actually use a camera.

  • Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype photographic printing process in 1842. Also known as "sun prints," the process involves exposing a mixture of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide to ultraviolet light. The exposed paper turns Prussian blue, similar to a blueprint.

  • Atkins produced three volumes of Photographs of British Algae between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies are known to still exist.

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More Info: The Independent

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