Out of the Blue

Posted on by

Out of the Blue: Explorations in Cyanotype

© Christina Z. Anderson

Juror: Jesseca Ferguson

The cyanotype was discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842. Also known as the blueprint or ferroprussiate process, the cyanotype was one of many iron-based photographic processes developed in the early days of photography and, due to its relative simplicity, is often one of the first historical processes that people study.

Though typically an image rendered on paper in various shades of blue, the cyanotype is a process that lends itself to adaptability and experimentation regarding substrates and color alterations through various toning techniques.

We are are pleased to bring you this exhibit showcasing the cyanotype process. These include traditional cyanotypes on paper, cyanotypes printed on other materials or manipulated through toning, and mixed media pieces utilizing the cyanotype process.

This juried exhibition can be viewed through August 27, 2016.

Cyanobookcover front
Exhibition catalogs are now available.

Order yours today!

Click here to preview.

Click here to order.

Congratulations to the Participating Artists

Christina Z. Anderson (Bozeman, MT)
Matthew Beniamino (Philadelphia, PA)
Victoria Byers (China Grove, NC)
Siobhan Byrns (Lynchburg, VA)
Sarah Carman (McGraw, NY)
Caleb Cole (Somerville, MA)
Wendy Constantine (Broomfield, CO)
Nicole Cudzilo (Bethel, CT)
Kristofor Dahl (Irvine, CA)
Susan Davens (Northport, ME)
Shari Diamond (Brooklyn, NY)
Mary Donato (Boise, ID)
Amy Evans (Califon, NJ)
Ania Gilmore (Lexington, MA)
Nancy Goodrich (Portland, CT)
Mike Hoover (Thorndale, PA)
Elina Julin (Helsinki, Finland)
Jaclyn Kain (Watertown, MA)
Ryan Larson (Cedar City, UT)

Jocelyn Mathewes (Johnson City, TN)
Scott McMahon (Columbia, MO)
Marek Noniewicz (Bydgoszcz, Poland)
Heather Oelklaus (Colorado Springs, CO)
Caroline Roberts (Houston, TX)
Azalea Rodriguez (Tempe, AZ)
Pam Rouleau (Wilton, CT)
Alyssa Salomon (Providence Forge, VA)
Georgia Schwender (Geneva, IL)
Sara Silks (Overland Park, KS)
Nicole Small (Montreal, Quebec)
Laurie Snyder (Ithaca, NY)
Leona Strassberg Steiner (New Orleans, LA)
Treë (NYC, NY)
Lara Vaienti (Bozeman, MT)
Melanie Walker (Boulder, CO)
DB Waltrip (Pensacola, FL)
Francine Weiss (Maynard, MA)

Award Recipients

Juror’s Award—Ania Gilmore: Lalka
Director’s Award—Christina Z. Anderson: Georgia
Honorable Mention—Siobhan Byrns: What the Water Took from Us #5
Honorable Mention—Heather Oelklaus: Bird
Honorable Mention—Georgia Schwender: Bubble Chamber

Juror’s Selections

Juror’s Remarks

PhotoSynthesis, in mounting a show dedicated to the mystery and magic of the cyanotype, is presenting something special.  Historically overlooked as an artistic process, cyanotype was seen in the 19th century as an inexpensive photographic proofing method or as a mechanical means of copying a handmade original, such as architectural drawings, which then became known as “blue prints.”  The monochromatic blue was thought to be off-putting and artificial.   During the 20th century revival of handmade photo processes, the iron-based cyanotype was considered inferior when compared with other early photo techniques based on platinum, palladium, and silver. Sometimes the lowly cyanotype served as a hidden foundation for other processes such as gum bichromate or palladium.   Even today cyanotype is dismissed as simple and is used as a low cost/low-tech introduction to hand-made photography for children and beginning students.  And yet – in the words of jazz musician Thelonious Monk – “Simple ain’t easy.”

Happily, 2016 seems to be the year of the cyanotype.  Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA mounted Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period, the first–ever museum exhibition devoted to the cyanotype, ranging from Anna Atkins’ 1843 photograms of British sea algae to images and objects made by contemporary artists.  PhotoSynthesis is on trend in its celebration of the cyanotype.

As a longtime practitioner and teacher of cyanotype myself, I was excited to see the range of work submitted for this show. Cyanotype easily yields high contrast graphic images, but, with effort, is also capable of delicately nuanced tones of blue.  I looked for work by artists who combined the evocative blues of cyanotype with an imaginative array of materials in order to express their ideas.  Artists printed on fabric, found papers, and egg shells.  They combined cyanotype with sewing, and collage to make artist books and 3-D objects.  Some artists printed with digital, lens-based or pinhole negatives.  Others worked without cameras, using found objects to make photograms.  Some simply painted cyanotype solution onto paper and did away with negatives entirely.

I chose work that engaged me, that rewarded deeper looking.  I sought out work that told me something new about cyanotype and how its limitless shades of blue could be relevant to artists and viewers in the 21st century.  I was looking for, and found, work that could take me somewhere that only a cyanotype can take me.

Thank you to Chris Huestis for the privilege of choosing the work for exhibition in Out of the Blue: Explorations in Cyanotype at PhotoSynthesis.  And thank you to all the artists who shared their cyanotyped images and objects with me.


Jesseca Ferguson has worked with handmade 19th century photo processes for over 25 years.  Her pinhole photographs and collaged “photo objects” have been collected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, England; Museum of the History of Photography, Krakow, Poland; and Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, France, among others.  Ferguson’s images have been published in a number of books and catalogues about handmade photography, including Christina Z. Anderson’s Gum Printing: A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice, Focal Press, out in June 2016.

Her recent solo shows include Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY (2014); Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY (2012); and Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, England (2011).  Group exhibitions from 2016 include “This is a Photograph: Exploring Contemporary Applications of Photographic Chemistry, “ curated by Dan Estabrook, Penland Gallery, Penland, NC; “Cyanotype: Photography’s Blue Period,” Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA; and “Double Visions,” Art Complex Museum, Duxbury, MA (on view through September 4, 2016).

Jesseca lives and works in Boston, MA, and currently teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Please visit Jesseca’s website here.