everything old is new again
Exploring Cyanotypes with Wilmington Photographer Curtis Krueger
By Amanda Lisk
CURTIS KRUEGER grabs a bottle of hydrogen
march 2021 50
peroxide and applies several droplets onto
his image as it floats in a tray of water.
“Watch this,” he says.
The image is of cypress trees, taken with
a Nikon D300 at Blue Cypress Lake in Florida from a kayak
one foggy morning. Instantly, the chemical reaction of the
peroxide trickles out to each tree branch, revealing detail
and dimension in dark shades of blue.
“Just look at that,” Krueger marvels as he transfers the
image to his studio to dry.
The process is called cyanotype. It’s one of the oldest and
most original forms of photographic printing, and Krueger is
using it to shed new light on his work.
Krueger is an acclaimed nature and bird photographer.
He typically travels more than 30,000 miles a year across
the country, taking more than 50,000 images and selling his
work at art shows and festivals. When COVID-19 interfered
with his planned itinerary in 2020, Krueger opted to take a
trip back in time.
“Being a bird photographer, you tend to get more and
more expensive lenses — to get more light, quicker focusing,
sharper images — and part of me just said, ‘Stop,’” Krueger
“Photography isn’t all about having the sharpest image.
You can have the most clean, crisp, sharp, boring image and
then you can have something that’s moody, muddy and
emotional on the opposite side. I said, ‘OK, let’s just start
back at the beginning,’ and cyanotype really is, from the
photography process, the beginning.”
The process was invented by astronomer and chemist Sir
John Herschel in 1842 for the purpose of copying his notes.
It was later expanded on by botanist Anna Atkins — often
referred to as the first female photographer — who created
the first known photographic book of her ferns using cyano-types.
Cyanotypes were also extensively used to copy architec-tural
plans — called blueprints — before computers.
Derived from the Greek word cyan, which means “dark
blue impression,” the process involves transferring an image
from a negative onto chemically coated paper by exposing
it with UV rays and then rinsing it with water. The resulting
image will be Prussian blue and white if printed on a white
The final and optional stage of applying hydrogen perox-ide
for a deeper, richer blue is Krueger’s favorite part. He
Top: Work Boots, 8 x 10 inches, cyanotype hand printed on water-color
paper, stained in a bath of black tea. Bottom: Pennsylvania
Line, 15 x 12 inches, cyanotype hand printed on watercolor paper,
stained in a bath of black tea.