Above images, clockwise from upper left: Thereza by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1853; Photogram by Anna Atkins, c. 1850; Poppy by Anna Atkins, 1852; Ferns by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1850sPhotograms were of particular interest to the scientific community in the nineteenth century. Prior to this new technology, scientists often had to make do with drawings and etchings when making references. Photograms (and the photographic medium in general) allowed for previously unimaginable levels of accuracy and detail — a boon for scientists who wanted to study things like plants, for example. People like illustrator Anna Atkins and photographers Thereza and John Llewelyn are some of the better known proponents of this technique. Unlike biologists who might have stored specimens inside test tubes or jars, these early photographers documented their subjects with light.
Although the process of creating a photogram is one of photography’s most basic techniques, the results are often stunning in their simplicity and beauty. To celebrate the season, we’ve adopted this classic process for the winter holidays in the form of a wreath of pine branches. For full instructions for this simple DIY, continue after the jump!
- Lumi Inkodye, a photosensitive dye that can be applied to paper or fabric
- plastic cup or bowl
- piece of solid-colored cotton fabric (lighter colors work best)
- a few pine branches (You can often find evergreen branches and scraps for free this time of year wherever Christmas trees are sold.)
- a piece of cardboard, cut to the size of your fabric
- laundry detergent
1. Cut out the amount of fabric you’d like to use for your piece. We opted to tear our edges rather than cutting with scissors to achieve a more rugged edge.
2. Place your fabric on a piece of thick cardboard and tack down its corners.
3. After shaking your bottle of Lumi Inkodye for 10 seconds, pour a small amount into a plastic cup or bowl.
4. In a dimly lit area, apply the Inkodye to your fabric with a paintbrush. You can apply it wherever you like, but keep in mind that your image will only show up where Inkodye is applied. We opted to apply Inkodye to most of the fabric.
5. While the Inkodye is still damp, arrange small pieces of pine branches on top of your fabric in the shape of a wreath.
6. Once you have achieved a satisfactory shape, pin down your pine branches with a generous amount of thumbtacks. Make sure no pieces are hovering above your surface. Each piece of pine should be firmly pressed onto your fabric for maximum coverage. If there are any unruly pieces, be sure to tack them down.
7. Bring your entire project outside or to a well-lit space. Expose to direct sunlight for roughly 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the strength of the light. Depending on how overcast the sky is and whether you decide to use glass on top of your branches (a slightly fancier option), the exposure time might be 2 to 3 times as long. The Inkodye should darken significantly from its original state before you remove it from sunlight.
8. Once your image has been exposed, remove the tacks and twigs from your fabric and wash it twice in a washing machine. Be sure to use detergent and hot water. This will remove any excess photosensitive dye and allow your image to fully develop. Once washed, tumble dry low or hang your fabric out to dry. If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can also hand wash your fabric with laundry detergent or strong soap for roughly 15 minutes.
9. That’s it! Hang that fancy photogram up on your wall!