An Archivist of Nature
i
“Common Poppy”, Anna Atkins, 1861
Art, Fiction

An Archivist of Nature

The Photography of Anna Atkins
Maciej Świetlik
Reading
time 5 minutes

Here is the first photographic album in history, a perfect combination of science and art. Its author, Anna Atkins, remained anonymous for over 100 years. Today, her blue world regains its shine.

The fact that Anna was born in 1799 in England was not conducive to her scientific career. In the Victorian era, with its biological determinism and puritan morals, a woman was seen first and foremost as a mother and a matron. Anna’s own mother – having fulfilled her main social duty – got ill in childbirth and a year and a half later orphaned her baby. The bitter irony of this stroke of fate is perhaps such that this tragedy helped Anna to fulfil her passion. The strong bond with her father, John George Children, allowed her to progress in a field that transgressed the narrow stage assigned to the social role of a woman. The father, a respected chemist and zoologist, secretary of The Royal Society, not only inspired his daughter’s interest in nature, but also facilitated her contacts with scientific circles. And this was

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Written in Sunlight
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Collection C.H. Florence – Leila et Silvia Florence/Jorge Bastos/motivo, São Paulo
Art

Written in Sunlight

The Curious Life of Hércules Florence
Katarzyna Sroczyńska

He invented photography before Daguerre. He travelled across the Amazon jungle, found a way to document the songs of birds without audio recording, and reproduced political pamphlets without the aid of a printing press. And yet, he was forgotten by the world for over a century.

“I am certain that printing using sunlight will be possible in the future,” Florence noted on 15th January 1833. The French inventor was in his late twenties. He was sitting at his desk in a picturesque Brazilian fazenda in São Carlos, a small town with a population of several thousand, 96 kilometres north of São Paulo. The summer was in full bloom. It was a time when many Europeans were trying to capture the light of the sun on paper, among them the painter Louis Jacques Daguerre. How come everyone knows Daguerre’s name and almost nobody has heard of Hércules Florence, even though he was the first to harness the sunlight? It was the surrealist artist André Breton who wrote that: “The greatest weakness of contemporary thought seems to lie in the extravagant overstatement of the known versus what is left to know.” Hércules Florence would probably agree.

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