Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection

Cornell Drawing Room, ca. 1890
Unidentified Photographer, Drawing Room, Cornell University College of Architecture, ca. 1890. Cyanotype photograph. Archives Photograph Collection. #13-6-2497. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Historic Photographic Processes
The Cyanotype

Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype process in 1842, rather early in the history of photography. While both albumen and silver gelatin prints rely on the light sensitivity of silver, cyanotypes are produced by light sensitive iron salts.

Technical definition:
A piece of paper is first sensitized with a solution of ferric ammonium citrate (an iron salt) and potassium ferricyanide (a crystalline iron salt) and dried. The prepared paper is then contact printed, or placed in direct contact with the negative, and exposed to sunlight until an image begins to appear on the paper (usually about fifteen minutes). As contact prints, they are always the same size as their negatives. In the final step, the print is washed in water to oxidize the iron salts and draw out the cyanotype’s brilliant blue color.

General Attributes
The cyanotype is named for its rich blue-green hue, cyan. Cyanotype prints have no emulsion; the light-sensitive iron salts have been infused into the paper fibers, unlike either albumen or gelatin silver prints. Cyanotypes were far simpler and les expensive to produce, which made them a favorite method for turn-of-the-century amateurs who wanted to make proofs of their negatives. The architectural blueprint is a variation of this photographic process.

1842 to present (although most cyanotypes in the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection were produced between 1880 and 1900)

Primary Characteristics of Cyanotypes

• Non-silver print (photo-sensitive element is iron)
• Blue color
• One-layer structure
• Paper fibers visible
• Matte surface


The A. D. White Project is funded by a grant from the
Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
and by a gift from Mr. Patrick A. Gerschel.

The participation of the Cornell Insititute for Digital Collections
has been funded by a gift from Mr. Arthur Penn.

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