A return to the origins of photography

Cyanotypes and ‘plant diary’ on display at the Lamplighter’s Marsh Riverside Festival

Although I’ve been aware of the cyanotype process since college days I’d never actually made any work in this way until last month when, working as part of Local Journeys, we were asked to produce an intergenerational project in Shirehampton that related to the riverside nature reserve Lamplighter’s Marsh. The area is one of several that have been included in Bristol City Council’s Wild City project – encouraging local communities to get out and enjoy their local landscapes, so completely in keeping with Local Journey’s aims.

We were granted permission to collect plants from the path that runs along the Avon (just across the water from our own village of Pill) and take them to the Penpole Community Centre in Shirehapmton where we worked with a lovely group of older ladies as part of their Monday Art Club activities along with the LinkAge project developer who’d arranged the session and joined in with enthusiasm.

The Intergenerational element didn’t work out (no young people – glad it’s not just me that has trouble recruiting schools!) but our participants loved the process of arranging the plants on the sensitised cloth in the shady room then watching the uncovered areas darken in the sunshine leaving the parts covered by the plants pale. When washed the exposed areas become deep blue while those covered by the plants are white and the group were clearly delighted with the finished results that were displayed the following Saturday along the path as part of the Lamplighter’s Riverside Festival.

The process is not too exacting and as a short workshop (we did coat and dry the fabric at home first) has a good balance between achievable hands-on activity that will readily produce attractive results but needs just a little patience to see the results – not instant gratification but a build up of anticipation and fast enough to be satisfying. It may have been different if we’d we’d had the intended 10 year olds too but definitely a set of activities to do again in a workshop and to try at home – cushion covers I think.

Below is a ‘picture story’ of the process, and above is the finished work in situ along with a ‘plant diary’ – a record of some of the plants we collected that day.

The Cyanotype process