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In the 20th century Man Ray devised the "photogram", placing objects or cut-out pieces of paper like stencils onto photo-sensitive paper and exposing them to light, essentially repeating Fox Talbot’s "photogenic drawings". In 1931 in collaboration with Man Ray, the surrealist Max Ernst produced original illustrations for a book in a similar way but instead of using objects, he made drawings and frottages on transparent paper (tracing paper) for exposure onto photographic paper. Blueprints are made in the identical way but exposed onto paper impregnated with iron salts.

The blueprint process had been invented in 1842 by Herschel though it was only commercially exploited much later for printing engineer’s and architects’ plans. Iron salts turn blue on exposure to light and the image is fixed by washing the sheet in water.

Blueprints are largely associated with a single artist, John Banting. He made his drawings on tracing paper, sometimes achieving interesting textures by painting with the thin paper placed over a rough surface in a frottage technique. His prints from the early 1930’s are negative, with white images against a blue ground, and are mainly surrealist figure subjects. The prints from later in the 30’s are abstract and achieved as positive blue images against a white ground (see right). Many of the individual blueprints were cut up and used in Banting’s collages. Banting did not own his own means of printing, but took his drawings to a local commercial blueprint office.

Bertha Jacques (1863–1941): Orchid

Bertha Jacques (1863–1941): "Orchid".  Cyanotype, c1905.  (305 x 223 mm)

In a variation on the theme, the American artist Bertha Jacques (1863-1941) experimented with cyanotypes, technically closer to Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawing, where a natural object such as a flowering branch of a plant was laid on a paper with an emulsion of cyanide compounds and exposed to sunlight. The image appeared as a white silhouette against a rich blue in the exposed areas.


John Banting (1902–1972): Abstract Design

John Banting (1902–1972): "Abstract Design".
Blueprint, c1937.  (378 x 1085 mm)

See also :


Colour Lithography


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