Twenty Seconds in the Sun

Gallery: blueprints of nature

What do you get when you make a sandwich of paper, chemicals, and plant life—and leave it out in the sun? A blue print of nature. Explore our gallery.

Twenty seconds in the sun, we learned, is the minimum time you need to make a cyanotype. It may take more—two to three minutes of paper soaking in sunlight and a solution of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Chemistry meets art and history in this photographic printing process commonly used in the 19th century—and introduced by Sir John Herschel, best known today for his work in astronomy. Charles Darwin esteemed him one of the greatest philosophers of the age. Anna Atkins, the first female photographer, transferred the process to photography, and we used it in the Photography and Mixed Media class I had with instructor Renee Billingslea. How it works: Brush and dry watercolor paper with the chemical mixture, then expose it to ultraviolet light with the subject pressed on top. Silhouettes appear. Then back to the lab for a wash. Our subjects: vegetables, grasses, and flowers from SCU’s Forge Garden. These are literally blue prints of nature.

SELECTED PHOTOGRAPHS

  • Red Poppy
  • Broccoli (more!)
  • Baby blue eyes
  • Carrot
  • Nasturtium by Grace Ogihara ’16
  • Rosemary
  • Silverbush lupine
  • Broccoli
  • Fava bean
  • Fennel
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