Cyano-Dykes: Playing with Cyanotypes and Van Dyke Browns

July 14th, 2023 – August 31st, 2023

We are proud to showcase Cyano-Dykes by the Photoland lab Aides on our Student Photography Wall!

Cyano-Dykes Statement:

“The work displayed here was created by the Photoland Lab Aides and Photoland staff members using alternative photographic printing processes. During spring quarter, the Photoland lab aides were taught how to make cyanotypes, on both paper and 16mm film, and Van Dyke brown prints. These are two types of alternative photographic printing processes but, there are many others such as photograms, lumen prints, anthotypes, and more. The cyanotype and Van Dyke brown processes both originated in the 1800’s and are modified versions of the non-silver processes that were developed by Sir John Herschel in 1842, as are most of the popular alternative processes today.

Cyanotypes are the oldest of these alternative processes and arguably the most accessible of them as the coating solution can be easily purchased online, it’s very eco-friendly and it only requires water to rinse off. Cyanotypes, and most of the alternative processes, can be made on any porous substance; paper and fabric are the most obvious choices but bones and shells could also be used. Once the material has been coated, the artist can place objects, digital negatives, plants, and other things onto the coated material and expose it to UV light either out in the sun or under a UV lamp. After it’s been exposed for the desired amount of time, the material can be washed in water, or a hydrogen peroxide and water mixture to get brighter whites and a richer blue tone. Since the chemicals used are safe for the environment, it is common for people around here to rinse their cyanotypes outside in the streams or directly in the sound.

With cyanotypes, the artist walks away with a beautiful blue and white print after the process is complete. Van Dyke browns result in a lovely range of chocolatey brown tones and are almost as simple as cyanotypes to make. Van Dyke browns are coated with a mixture of three chemicals prior to exposure, one of which is silver nitrate which means they can’t be rinsed out as easily as cyanotypes. Since this chemical contains silver, that makes it less safe for humans, less eco-friendly, and requires the artist to fix the final image in a chemical solution rather than just water like cyanotypes. Van Dyke browns need to be coated very precisely as the brush strokes can show up very clearly in the final prints, though some people like to intentionally coat their materials wildly to add to their final image.

After learning the basics of the Van Dyke brown and cyanotype process, the lab aides were able to take their knowledge and make some experimental prints which are what you see displayed on this wall. Some chose to continue making cyanotypes and Van Dyke brown prints separately, some opted to combine the two, which is why you see some images that have multiple shades of blue or have blue and brown together on an image. Some chose to add in other elements such as turmeric, salt, coffee, or vinegar to create images called wet cyanotypes which appear different in color or texture than a typical cyanotype while others chose to explore different ways of coating their paper to create “ghost images” in their final images. There are so many ways that these processes can be experimented with and played with to create and wide range of results.

If you’re interested in learning more about alternative processing, Julia Zay and Devon Damonte are two faculty here that regularly teach these processes in different ways. You can also inquire with Photoland’s staff to see if workshops in these processes are available.”