I was with the lovely folk at Fotosynthesis, who’d been asked to put on two photography activities at a community festival in south-east London. Inside, the studio portrait shots were a great success. People never hate being photographed as much as they claim, and thanks to the mini printer, they could leave with a (free) professional family portrait in their hands.
Outiside, it was a bit harder to convince people to get stuck in. The beauty of cyanotype, though, is that anyone can do it. Choose your image from the selection of negatives, place it on the treated paper, and leave it to expose under the sunlight (or cloud, in our case). When it’s ready, wash it in cold water, and hang it out to dry. (For a more detailed explanation of how the process works, read this.) You create a unique piece – you never know exactly how it will turn out; timing, daylight and the exact mix of chemicals will all affect the end result.
Best of all, you watch your piece transform: from the instant the paper sees the sky it starts changing colour. When you lift your negative (or objects, if you’re creating a more abstract photogram), your picture has taken shape, blurrily; then, in the water, the fine detail of someone’s eyes, or the shadows of a muscle emerge as if by magic.
It’s that wonder and unpredictability of photography – without needing to master any camera settings – that makes it a good tool to get people exploring. Though some still need a bit of convincing that they don’t need to be ‘good’ to do it.