British botanist Anna Atkins is considered one of the first women to create photography and the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographs. She received an unuasual scientific education for a woman of her time.
Her father and her husband were friends of William Henry Fox Talbot (scientist, inventor and a photography pioneer). She learned directly from him about his two inventions related to photography: the “photogenic drawing” technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitized paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes (this process use paper coated with silver iodide).
She and Constance Talbot (Talbot’s wife) were the first women photographers, but as no camera-based photographs by both of them survive, we cannot say who was the first.
Atkins applied cyanotype photograhic technique to algae, seaweed, by making cyanotype photograms that were contacted printed, the original unmouted dried-algae placed directly on the cyanotype paper.
She self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843.
- Although privately published, with a limited number of copies, and with handwritten text, her book is considered the first book illustrated with photographic images.
- Atkins produced a total of three volumes of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1853. Only 17 copies of the book are known to exist, in various states of completeness. Copies are now held by institutions as: British Library (London), Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Glasgow), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY) among others.