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Subscriber: University of Groningen; date: 19 September 2019

Atkins [née Children], Anna unlocked

(b Tonbridge, Kent, March 16, 1799; d Halstead Place, Kent, June 9, 1871).
  • L. J. Schaaf

English photographer and scientist. The only daughter of the scientist John George Children (1777–1852), she was a pioneering photographer and the first person to publish a photographically printed and illustrated book. Her privately published British Algae, issued in parts from 1843 to 1853, pre-dated William Henry Fox Talbot Pencil of Nature (London, 1844) and stood for some time as the only sustained effort to apply photography to scientific illustration. Her plates of seaweed specimens were photograms, contact printed in the cyanotype, or blueprint, photographic process, invented in 1842 by her friend Sir John Herschel. In the early 1850s, collaborating with Anne Dixon (1799–1864), Atkins turned to creative expression with cyanotype photograms (e.g. Spirea aruncus, 1851–4). Her visual approach, initially shaped by the requirements of scientific illustration rather than the conventions of Victorian art, was bold and direct and strongly anticipated the later photograms of Man Ray and others.

Anna Atkins: Spiraea aruncus, photogram of a botanical specimen, cyanotype, 351×246 mm, 1851–4 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2004, Accession ID: 2004.172); image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

See also images tab for additional illustrations.

Photographic publications

  • Atkins, Anna
  • British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 3 vols (Sevenoaks, England, 1843–53)


  • L. J. Schaaf: Sun Gardens: Victorian Photograms by Anna Atkins (New York, 1985)
  • J. Wilson: ‘The Cyanotype’, Technology and Art: The Birth and Early Years of Photography, ed. M. Pritchard (Bath, 1990), pp. 19–25
  • C. Armstrong: Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photography in the Book, 1843–1875 (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1998)
  • C. Armstrong and M. Catherine de Zegher, eds: Ocean Flowers: Impressions from Nature (Princeton, 2004)