As I settled in front of my computer this morning, sleepy after getting home late last night from the SPE National Conference in New Orleans, I opened my browser and saw that Anna Atkins is featured as the Google Doodle today. How cool!

Atkins was an English botanist and photographer born 216 years ago today. Her book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images, and she is often credited as the first woman to create a photograph. Probably everyone has seen Atkins’ cyanotypes. I don’t remember my first experience of them, but I remember the first time I looked at them and really considered their greatness, when I was in an alternative processes class and about to make my own cyanotypes for the first time, looking for inspiration.

The images Atkins created are simple and beautiful, full of surprising detail. They’re a combination of scientific illustration and art, displaying objects found in nature while at the same time visually referring to many of the earth’s other wonders (constellations or a lightning bolt in the night sky, the scarcity of the color blue in nature, etc.). The photograms make me think of light coming through the dark. It’s fantastic that we’re still looking in awe at Atkins’ botanical cyanotypes and recognizing her contribution to science and photography nearly 175 years later.

Source: NYPL Digital Collections