Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs" by Fiona Robinson (Abrams Young Readers)

One thing we've hoped and clamoured for in 2019 are more books that uncover hidden historical figures.

We're more than used to seeing those 'fantastically inspirational' books that seem to feature the same folk again and again, but this rather beautiful story hails one of the unsung heroes of photography and botany.

"The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs" by Fiona Robinson is an utterly beautiful and stylish historical account of a young girl whose early life was tinged with tragedy, but who went on to achieve greatness in her chosen fields.

After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was raised by her loving father - who (like me) loved sharing the magic of science with his daughter.

In the early 19th century, the world was changing rapidly as new discoveries were made, hailing an unprecedented period of great achievement and scientific innovation.

Anna's father made sure that his daughter received a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century.

Anna loved to spend as much time as possible drawing and painting plants but always wondered how she could capture their beauty in even more detail. 
Fascinated with plant life, Anna became a botanist and loved recording various plant species for posterity in her own journals, with glorious illustrations and engravings.

In 1842, a massive innovation in photography had a profound impact on young Anna. The invention of Cyanotype photography allowed Anna to use new techniques in order to catalogue plant specimens—a true marriage of science and art.

Anna's father ensured she received a scientific education, unusual in the early 19th Century for women. 

In just under a year, Anna had mastered the new photographic techniques and published the book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with handwritten text and cyanotype photographs. It was revolutionary, the first book of photographs ever published - and testament to Anna's passion for her subject.

How to capture the beauty of a poppy in hues of blue?
This utterly fascinating story of Anna and her life is a piece of art in itself, picked out in the trademark blue hues of cyanotype, with masterful and glorious illustrations complimenting the details of Anna's lifelong love of plants. The book even shows you how you can make your own Cyanotypes (you'll definitely need an adult to help if you go down the route of using chemicals described in the book, though Cyanotype paper is fairly widely available and very easy to use - just wait for a sunny day!)

Sum this book up in a sentence: A beautifully written and illustrated history of one of the most passionate pioneers of early photography and botany, thoroughly fascinating work from Fiona!

"The Bluest of Blues" by Fiona Robinson is out now, published by Abrams Young Readers (kindly supplied for review).