Video by Kayli Weiss ’18
Cyanotype is a photographic process discovered in 1842 that uses a combination of chemicals, sunlight, and time to produce a blue and white print. A simple and inexpensive way to replicate drawings, this technique was historically used to create architectural blueprints. It is one of many alternative photographic processes that Sam Brill-Weil ’20 has learned over the years at the Maine Media Workshop in Camden.
Brill-Weil recently spearheaded Helmreich house’s World Cyanotype Day workshop on Sunday, October 1. “I wanted to bring this process to Bowdoin,” he said. “When people think of photography, they think of disposable cameras, dark rooms, iPhones. But photography started out completely differently. Bowdoin has the facilities for cyanotype, and I wanted to show that.”
Partnering with Bowdoin Art Society, Brill-Weil and fellow members of Helmreich house provided cyanotype materials for interested students, who came to create their own works of art. The students who live in Helmreich House, like Bowdoin’s other eight residential College Houses, organize programs throughout the year for the campus, from cultural, artistic or political events to academic talks and student parties.
At the cyanotype workshop, each student was given a piece of transparent paper when they arrived, on which they could create a design with marker, electrical tape, or plants. Then, they went down to the makeshift darkroom in the Helmreich basement, and coated a sheet of cardstock paper with a mixture of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide. After drying this sheet with a hairdryer, they returned outside, hiding their sheet from the light. Each taped down their own design on top of the chemically-treated paper, placed a plate of glass on top, and watched as the light transformed their creations. After a quick rinse with water and hydrogen peroxide, the cyanotypes, bright blue, were complete.
The event, drawing a large turnout, is emblematic of Bowdoin Art Society’s goals. “We strive to improve the presence of the arts on campus,” said co-president of the society, June Lei ’18. The group also brings speakers to campus, works with the Bowdoin Museum of Art to improve student engagement, and runs the fall student art show.