I took advantage of my time spent recently in the powerful and abundant South African sunshine to experiment with some ‘Sunography‘ paper I’d bought several years ago at the MoMA museum shop in NYC. The paper is a beautiful heavy-weight cold-pressed cotton watercolour paper treated with photographic chemicals which make it (sun)light sensitive on both sides. Sunlight sensitive paper (the cyanotype) was a forerunner of modern photographic processes – invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel and popularised by one of the first female photographers, Anna Atkins, in her very beautiful series of cyanotypes depicting British algae, ferns and other plant-life.

The process is wonderfully simple:

on a sunny day…

cyanotype process 1 - gathering interesting objects

gather interesting objects
(whatever you have close at hand)

cyanotype process 2 - arranging objects and exposure to sunlight

arrange them on sheets of sunography paper
and expose them to sunlight

(I exposed mine for between 71/2 and 81/2 minutes in very bright sunlight. The longer you expose the paper to the sunlight the deeper the resultant blue, but bear in mind that exposure time will impact on the detail achieved, which will also partly be determined by the transparency/opacity of the individual objects used. Cover flat objects with a sheet of glass to keep them in place on the paper during exposure – this is especially important if there is any wind about)

cyanotype process 3 - rinsing exposed prints in water

rinse the exposed prints
(using ordinary tap water)

cyanotype process 4 - drying exposed print

hang up to dry

et voilà!… sunlight immortalised!


The results are infinitely pleasing, and the simplicity of the process makes it a very rewarding way to spend a lazy, sunny, summer holiday afternoon.

Hmm, now I think I’ll have to start planning another trip to NYC to get my hands on some more Sunography paper ;)