top of page
  • Writer's picturePhotoED Magazine

Plant based printing


An excerpt from:


Beach Rose-Alison Bell-Gather Ye Rosehips
Anthotype made using Beach rose (Rosa Rugosa) • “Gather ye rosehips” by Alison Bell, St. Catharines, ON

What is an anthotype?


Utilizing nature’s own colouring pigments from flower petals, berries or other plant parts, images are produced by crushing and mixing them with alcohol or water to make a light-sensitive emulsion. Ordinary watercolour paper is coated with the emulsion and a photogram can be created by placing objects on top of the paper. An image can also be printed using a positive transparency (not a negative) in a contact frame. The print is then exposed under the sun. No further developing or fixing of the print is needed.


The focus of this book is to show the many different types of emulsions that can be created from an infinite number of plants and pigments.


Anthotype made using Lavender (Lavandula), Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), Blue butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)and Basil (Ocimum basilicum) •  “Lavande” by Émilie Léger, Montréal, QC
Anthotype made using Lavender (Lavandula), Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), Blue butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)and Basil (Ocimum basilicum) • “Lavande” by Émilie Léger, Montréal, QC

The benefits of anthotyping

  • An environmentally friendly and sustainable process—very little impact on the environment.

  • A great way to spend time in nature.

  • Wonderful smells when picking petals—most of the time.

  • A fun way to experiment with photography.

  • A great way to get children involved without hazardous chemicals—though take extra care to avoid poisonous plants!

  • No darkroom is needed; can be done at home.

  • You can grow your own plants for creating the emulsion.

  • A de-stressing process of “slow photography”.

Anthotype made using Sulphur Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) • “Summer Sunshine” by Janice Kamide, Richmond,  BC
Anthotype made using Sulphur Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) • “Summer Sunshine” by Janice Kamide, Richmond, BC

Some things that may be less perfect

  • The image can be somewhat faint or have low contrast.

  • The exposure times are very long—it can take days or even weeks.

  • The prints are monochrome and thus limited to one colour.

  • It is hard to know the final colour of the print; for example, blue petals do not necessarily yield a blue print.

  • Some plants are VERY poisonous; be sure to look this up before using them!

  • Some pigments cause stains on clothes and surfaces.

  • The result can be unexpected—that is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • The image is not permanent. It will fade over time.


Anthotype made using Turmeric (Curcuma longa) • “Grandma’s House” by Kirsten Murphy, Yellowknife, NT
Anthotype made using Turmeric (Curcuma longa) • “Grandma’s House” by Kirsten Murphy, Yellowknife, NT

A brief history

Using plants to colour cloth or paint is ancient—with evidence of the use of plants ranging from Neanderthals to Egyptian Pharaohs and Japanese tattoo masters.


The discovery and use of plants in photography is more carefully mapped. Like many other discoveries, it required a whole ensemble of people to make it happen, starting with Henri August Vogel who, in 1816, discovered that plant juices are sensitive to light.


A number of people did extensive research, such as Theodor Freiherr von Grotthuss, and Sir John Herschel who published his discovery in 1842. Rather unfairly, Mrs Mary Somerville was a main player but was not able to publish her research on ‘the action of rays on vegetable juices’, since she was a woman(!!!). There are more names, such as Robert Hunt and Michel Eugene Chèvreul, who extended the research on their own accord.




“Anthotypes show us just how much early photography is a kind of natural magic. Malin Fabbri’s book is a real gift – a much-needed manual on this beautiful and almost-forgotten process.”
- Dan Estabrook, Artist and educator.


 

Enjoyed this free read?! 


Consider supporting us!

As the ONLY independent editorial photography publication in Canada we'd love your support to continue producing great content for you to enjoy!




Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page