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Connecting Science with photographs: Anna Atkins

Category : All, Education, History · by Mar 16th, 2015

Today can we imagine our Botany books without photographs?? Features of plant species without its colorful picture?


Our science books from child hood education to post-doctoral research can’t be imagine without colorful pictures describing the facts behind it??

Do we really know, who deserves this credit?


Today Google doodles the 216th birthday of Anna Atkins, to commemorate her contribution for connecting photography with science & especially botany.

Images of beautiful ferns, flowers & flora dates back to 18th -19th century and all credit goes to her.

So who was she? Was she a botanist or a photographer?

Let’s go back to 18th century when photography, science was at their earliest stage & new ideas methods were in boom.

Anna Atkins

Portrait Anna Atkins, Litchmikroskop, khichdi, blog, science

Portrait Anna Atkins, Source- Litchmikroskop

Born: 16th March 1799, Tonbridge Kent, England

Original Name: Anna Children

Father: John George Children, eminent scientist & secretary of Royal Society, Britain

Husband: John Pelly Atkins- 1825


While in her early 20s, Atkins made drawings for her father’s translation of Jean-Baptiste de Monet Lamarck’s Genera of Shells(1823), but her prime interest lay in the study of botany.

Trained as a botanist, Anna Atkins developed an interest in photography as a means of recording botanical specimens for a scientific reference book, British Algae: Cyanotype ImpressionsThis publication was one of the first uses of light-sensitive materials to illustrate a book. Instead of traditional letterpress printing, the book’s handwritten text and illustrations were created by the cyanotype method.

In 1841, inspired by advice from William Henry Fox Talbot, Anna Atkins took up photography and by 1843 had mastered Sir John Herschel’s cyanotype process. From 1843-1853 she worked consistantly and prodigiously documenting her large collection of seaweed. These cyanotype photograms were released as a 12-part series. Beginning in 1853 Anna Atkins and her childhood friend, Anne Dixon, began to collaborate in creating photograms of ferns, flowers, feathers and lace. While artistic expression was not her original goal in recording the specimans of British algae, many of the plates can be celebrated as much for their imaginative composition and aesthetic appeal as for their scientific intent.

Contribution to World:

Atkins employed cyanotype to record all the specimens of algae found in the British Isles. The first part of her work, entitled British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, appeared in 1843; by 1850 she had produced 12 additional parts. During the next three years, Atkins completed the publication with 389 captioned photograms and several pages of text, of which a dozen copies are known. Despite the simplicity of her means, Atkins’s project was the first sustained effort to demonstrate that the medium of photography could be both scientifically useful and aesthetically pleasing.

Anna Atkins, 'Poppy', about 1852. Museum no. PH.381-1981, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Anna Atkins, ‘Poppy’, about 1852. Museum no. PH.381-1981, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

After her book on algae, she collaborated with Anne Dixon on

  • Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns(1853), now in the  Paul Getty Museum;
  • Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns(1854), disassembled pages of which are held by various museums and collectors;
  • An album inscribed to “Captain Henry Dixon” ,Anne Dixon’s nephew (1861).

In addition, she published books with non-photographic work

Died: 9th June 1871, She died at Halstead Place in 1871 of “paralysis, rheumatism, and exhaustion” at the age of 72

So, she was a photographer as well as botanist and her remarkable work change the look at science & makes it more colorful.


Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;—
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
— Lord Alfred Tennyson

Its Happy Birthday to Anna Atkins..She will always be remembered in each & every photograph in our Books.


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(1) Comment

8 years ago · Reply

Nice way to honour her !! great

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