As a cohort of students, we interact quite regularly on WhatsApp. In recent discussions I conversation turned to the cyanotype process.
A fellow student commented that cyanotype is “…basic, and super easy to do at home”, and, to a point, they are correct.
It’s relatively safe use for young children (especially if using pre-made cyanotype paper) and its non-toxic wash-out, are two of the main reasons I chose to specialise in it.
I did, however, feel the need to explain that this process can be more complex than simply putting something on the paper, shoving it out in the sun and washing it out in water – perhaps I was feeling a tad prickly that day.
My fellow student responded that it was simple compared to other photographic processes, and to a point that’s correct (although I think simple here would need to be clarified, particularly if mixing chemicals from scratch as all processes then need care and attention).
To help explain my perspective on this process, I shared Dr Mike Ware’s updated Cyanomicon II document. This provides a detailed review of the process, its chemical make-up, process tweaks and much more. It may not seem such a simple process once the information within has been digested.
Yes, I agree that its simplicity (at face value) is wonderful, and if it encourages creativity then that’s fantastic, but is more than just a photographic process you can use with toddlers.
The resulting conversation led me to offer to run an advance cyanotype session as part of the next student meet-up. This would be great, although I definitely don’t want to miss out on other opportunities I may be interested in if they run at the same time.
Let’s wait and see. One of the things I took from this conversation is that I feel such a strong bond to the cyanotype process. And I felt the need to defend it.
Having seen interest grow in leaps and bounds in the past six years or so for this alternative technique, probably because it is one of the more safe chemical mixes (although always store them correctly), and because you can buy pre-made cyanotype paper and fabrics, I do get why some would think it is easy.
But then perhaps my challenge should be, “what’s wrong with easy”. Although I have worked in studios, newspapers and as a medical photographer that have in some form or another demanded complex and technical photographic skills, my love has always been for the more natural; natural light rather than flash for example.
Yes, I am happy to keep things ‘simple’.
Ware, Mike. Cyanomicon II. Available at: http://www.mikeware.co.uk/downloads/Cyanomicon_II.pdf [accessed December 3, 2017]