Cyanotypes & The Graves of Poets

Standing in the cold lifeless air of Westminster Abbey, surrounded by marble morbidity, the good and great and privileged interred at every turn, monarchs at the head of the table and poets consigned to a dim corner, and there, amid the flag stones of the nave lie the mortal remains of Charles Darwin, a three lined epitaph for the founder of the theory of modern evolution, we need little explanation of who he is or what he contributed, your attention soon wanders, you glance at the neighbouring grave, so close they could be related, the Latin inscription reveals little and you could be forgiven for wandering off in search of  dead poets and princesses.

The obscure tomb suspiciously close to that of Darwin’s is that of Sir John Herschel, astronomer, biologist, chemist, and mathematician. He was a mentor and source of inspiration for Darwin. Herschel came from good stock, his father discovered Uranus, and the family’s contribution to astronomy is immeasurable. Sir John married his cousin and had twelve children, he was a Polymath.

Portrait of Sir John Herschel by Julia Margaret Cameron April 1867. Whatever advances digital photography has afforded us I still aspire to produce images of this calibre

When we consider the origins and invention of photography it’s usually Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre that spring to mind but John Frederick William Herschel is as, if not more important. Herschel gave us the term photography and gave us the photographic meaning of negative and positive and his discovery of using sodium thiosulphate as a solvent for silver halides, producing what we know as fixer or hypo which allowed Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre to make permanent the images they were creating in those heady days of the mid-nineteenth century.

My early experiments in Lumen printing using antique Bulgarian photographic paper.

Importantly Herschel invented the Cyanotype the process that gave us blueprints used primarily for technical drawing. A simple process of using a combination of iron compound coated paper being exposed to UV light then washed. Sir John introduced family friend and fellow botanist Anna Atkins to the process who created a series of the most beautiful images of algae and other plants, she is regarded as the first female photographer and produced the first-ever book of photographs.

During the first Covid confinement I decided it was time to experiment with Cyanotypes as part of my slow photography movement, probably not the same buzz in the Home Counties as that of the antics of Hershel and Atkins but never the less.

Work in Progress-multi-tasking clearly a bonus

There really is no explanation for the creative process, I can only say that from time to time I find myself crawling around graveyards, is it the arrogance of being alive amongst the dead or a sense of my own mortality, I don’t know. I decided to collect the fallen leaves from the graves I found interesting and have them squirreled away.

 The Leaves of Poets had been a title jangling around my head for a while and with the pandemic pending I had to use what was easily at hand, so this first attempt has been made with leaves found on the grave of JRR Tolkein, and I do think one image in particular has an air of Middle Earth about it.

Leaves that have so many symbolic meanings are great subjects but not the easiest when working with Cyanotype or Lumen printing, the translucence of petals does work better, so you sit there in the mud contemplating the shapes of shedded shade. It’s all part of the mindful approach to slow photography.

Fallen leaves rescued from the grave of JRR Tolkein

Creating Cyanotypes is a simple process, you can buy raw chemicals but with the growing popularity of camerless photography, kits are easily available online. You don’t need a darkroom or much in the way of photographic experience. I will prepare a PDF of full instructions of Cyanotype and Lumen printing and include a resource of further reading, leave a message in the comments section below or mail me.

These kits look pretty good-Click the image for details

Watch The Simple Cyanotype Mixtape via the link below

https://youtu.be/GXQXo35nBr4

Anna Atkins is a truly remarkable woman; her groundbreaking photography was more than just an exercise in the ascetic, it was a combination of her botanical scientific study, technical ability, and determination, but it is her love of the subject that make her simple blue and white images as beautiful today as they were a century and a half ago.

There does not seem to be many books available on Herschel or Atkins but this illustrated biography of Atkins looks pretty-click the image for details;

This is the only comprehensive biography on the fascinating genius of Sir John Herschel I could find-Click the image for details;

As I went in search of the unsung heroes of the origins of photography, a rabbit hole of revelation if ever there was one, I discovered the Herschel family home is in the same village as my late grandparents lived; Hawkhurst in Kent, just behind the Eight Bells pub where one night in my early twenties I got incredibly drunk with my Grandfather, the pub dates back to 1847 so there is every chance Sir John popped in for a cheeky pint, our paths missing by about a hundred and fifty years. And while we are on the people I have not met in pubs topic; both JRR Tolkein and I were regulars in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, although sadly, not at the same time.  

Mindfulness, slow photography, and adventures with analog are all therapeutic experiments I will be pursuing more often and will be happy to help anyone else attempting similar projects and let me know if you are interested in a cheat sheet on getting started with Cyanotypes.

This is my favorite image from the first series, more pac-man than middle-earth but that is the curious thing about nature.

Should anyone be interested in purchasing the original artwork I may make them available via Ebay

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Oman And The Turtle

A loggerhead turtle scampers frantically towards the sea, her cumbersome shell not designed for beach sprinting, the dawn light now illuminating the protective cove but it’s not only the light that has stirred her into such inelegant action so much as the camera-phone wielding tourists in hot pursuit; coming out at night to lay her eggs it’s not only the foxes and birds she has to fear but now the modern scourge of the eco-paparazzi.


Ras al Jinz is the most easterly point of the Arabian peninsula in the Gulf of Oman, when the dawn light breaks here it does so before any other point in the Arab world, time and tide waits for no man, so it’s said, and neither do the turtles nesting on the beach. The tourists are a recent addition but otherwise life continues here much as it has done for hundreds of years, the turtles are of course protected, although many a local fisherman will tell of the succulent taste of its meat, my guide and driver sheepishly admits.


Ibn Battutah, the itinerant Arab traveller, landed on these shores more than six hundred years previously at a time when the maritime traffic of the Indian Ocean, Red and Arabian seas were dominated by Muslim traders. Dialects of Swahili and Baluchise among others are still spoken in the Souks of Oman, testament to the merchants that crises-crossed the seas, not only carrying silk and cotton but also the gifts of the Magi; gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Yet Oman is no antique backwater, whilst its history and traditions are still preserved and appreciated and its unique cultural identity fully intact unlike perhaps some of its brash noisy neighbours, over the last forty years sustained development and investment have transformed the Sultanate into a modern yet understated nation. The once impenetrable interior now easily accessible by road, although in some of the more remote regions only by 4×4.

Proud of their heritage and determined to protect it the Omanis are quick to point out the difference between them and the glittering gaudy high-rise Emirates; no buildings are over four stories high in Oman, the cities have plenty of modern shopping malls but equally every Friday cattle traders turn up to Nizwa souk with sheep, cows and goats in the back of pick-ups ready to haggle a deal, farmers lead their beasts around a circular dais where prospective buyers sit and inspect, occasionally an errant bullock bucking and causing the crowd to stumble back, Rials exchanged goats carried off cradled in arms like a baby, around the corner in the restored old souk rifles and the ceremonial daggers are bought and sold, Bedouin women with their distinctive face masks shop for fruit, a traditional way of life sitting easily inside a country of modern infrastructure.


Absolute power obtained via a coup is hardly unusual in the Middle East but when Sultan Qabous Bin Said al Said ousted his father in 1970 it heralded the beginning of a renaissance and when the Arab Spring promoted discontent and protest in Oman as it did all over the Middle East he did something no other regional leader did; he listened to grievances then responded with decorum and understanding, he implemented reforms and created jobs and made promises, the Sultan died in a year ago this month; his legacy is one of cohesive inclusion, and while his reign is hardly blemish free he is held in high regard.

The dynasty continues with his first cousin, Haitham bin Tariq al Said who in his short time in office has made efforts to continue reform and much needed economic diversification to keep Oman a rare oasis of tranquillity and calm, unless that is you are a turtle.

When the dawn light breaks along the coast of Oman the rest of the Arab world is still in darkness; modern and modest and with quiet humility Oman has much to be admired and as Ibn Battutah wrote; a beauty that is undeniable.

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Mindfulness & The Art of Slow Photography

Mindfulness and the art of Slow Photography

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A Turkish friend had been going into lucid detail of the true meaning of mindfulness, a term of modern trend that can often be treated with flippant discard or so I thought.

One version of the meaning according to Psychology Today is; “Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosityopenness, and acceptance” There are many definitions of this meditative practice that has its roots in Buddhism but this description in particular appealed to me,  another is “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”

Now  regular followers of my blog may have already determined I am not really a spiritual man,  neither am I one for hanging labels on my beliefs or philosophy, I do poach a little from here and there and no doubt that a thread of anarchism runs through it all but in the end I see things in shades of monochromatic pragmatism. So, it does seem somewhat contradictory of me to delve into the world of Zen. But I am also a contradictory fellow.

As my friend was explaining the concept to me, I realized that this was something I already practice but I know it as the non-philosophical term; Photography. Personally speaking, photography and the concept of Mindfulness are intrinsically intertwined, to be at the very least a competent photographer you must follow the basic principles of Mindfulness.

I have unknowingly touched on this in previous posts and it’s something I now want to explore further; Finding Order In The Chaos

A recent case in point.

The day had not been going well, frustration and anger had been slowing morphing into depression, I had decided a walk would do me good, I shouldered my camera gear with only half an idea of shooting a near by lake at sunset, I am not a landscape photographer but I enjoy the process and of course the walk.

Along a potholed lane out of the village, past a couple of scruffy mutts bleating and into open fields, the sun was still high and the heat induced sweat dribbling wherever it could, past sullen sunflower plants with their heads bowed in despair, the landscape was not spectacular; provincial, pastural, pleasant, the lake was hardly a lake, more a big pond, I’m not sure how you define either. I hiked the ridge above the lake and surveyed the scene from every angle, a gypsy and his cart toddled past and some fishermen were packing their kit and getting ready to leave. Soon I stood alone apart from a hawk of some sort, wings wide above the fields.

I predicted the final movements of the sun, where the shadows would fall, the only problem was that from every angle an electricity pylon spoiled my potential photograph, it was the wrong sort of energy that was blighting my bliss. There would be no pretty picture postcard lake at sunset shot and It didn’t matter, this was not a commission, I had no brief to fulfil.

I scrambled down the bank to the waters edge and startled basking frogs back into the sanctuary of the water, plopping one after the other in perfect time to my footsteps, at the far side of the lake I set my bag down and made myself comfortable in the long grass.

Its here that things began to come into focus, my view was limited to what was in close proximity, the only sound was nature, in the stillness the frogs regained their confidence and reappeared in the algae coated water, a stork settled and turtle edged along his perch, I was completely focused on my surroundings, the pattern of plants and the insects that went about their business without interruption, as the lake fell into shadow I felt inclined to head back to home, I have no idea how long I sat there, in those moments my mind was free, not empty but not cluttered with concern or toxicity. I made a couple of images and strode home as dusk passed into night.Untitled-1

The images were unimportant snapshots consigned to my hard-drive until now, the clarity though was enough to make a difficult decision a simple one.

I think we need to talk about Slow Photography more often and its relationship with Mindfulness and its potential as Art Therapy.

As a full time professional photographer, it is often hard to justify the time and trouble and inevitable expense to engage in non-profitable work, that is, unless you redefine the term profitable.

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Thank you Marcus Marcus Peddle Photography & Poetry

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