b.16 Mar 1799; d. 9 Jun 1871
She was a botanist, and one of the earliest woman photographers. In 1841 she came into contact with Fox Talbot, one of her father’s friends. As a botanist, she quickly saw the potential of using photography to record specimens. Her father was an eminent scientist who had various senior posts at the newly created British Museum; many of Anna’s scientifically accurate drawings are in the British Museum. Anna lived in a time when women were not encouraged to become involved in science. Botany, however, was a more acceptable area.
She chose the Cyanotype process for her work – an appropriate choice, because it was comparatively inexpensive and easy to work with, and its only disadvantage, a blue image, was immaterial. This process, though she was not to know it at the time, was far more permanent than other processes, and much of her work still survives now.
In October 1843 Anna Atkins became the first person to print and publish a book, photographically illustrated with 424 pictures. Called “British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions”, this book which was issued in several parts over a period of ten years. Her book, therefore, even precedes Fox Talbot’s “Pencil of Nature.” Though she had a camera, she relied entirely on photograms (known, at the time, as Shadowgraphs).
A discovery of one of the very few copies of her book attracted considerable interest in June 1996, when it was put up for auction.