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Image of the Week: the world’s largest cyanotype

8 May, 2015

This week’s Image of the Week shows a section of the world’s largest cyanotype, created by artists Melanie King, Constanza Isaza Martinez and Andres Pantoja. It measures 7 x 14 metres and over 20 volunteers helped create the bold blue pattern, setting a new Guinness World Record. The previous world record was set by Melanie King at the Story of Light Festival in Goa, India in January 2015. This one was created on a slighty gloomy afternoon in London as part of a weekend of activity called On Light.

The cyanotype process is a simple method of photographic printing, invented in the 1800s. It uses a photosensitive solution to create a cyan-blue print and was often used by engineers as a cheap and easy way to reproduce diagrams, or ‘blueprints’.

To make a cyanotype a white canvas is coated with a mild photosensitive solution containing ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, turning it pale green. When exposed to UV light from the sun the compounds in the solution react to form an insoluble blue compound, ferric ferrocyanide, also known as Prussian blue, changing the colour of the canvas to blue. If something, or in this case someone, blocks the sunlight from hitting the canvas, the canvas remains the original shade of green. Once the print has developed the unreacted green solution is washed out of the canvas, leaving behind the bright white shapes on a deep blue background that you can see in the image above.

For Saturday’s record attempt Melanie and her team invited members of the public to lie sprawled across the canvas while it developed, each person striking their own distinctive pose (I’m the one on the bottom left!). In the centre of the canvas they placed a selection of circular objects, to make a streak of circles across the centre of the print, like a band of stars. We had to act quickly, as once the canvas was unrolled the solution immediately started to react. Getting everyone on and off the canvas swiftly was essential to creating crisp, clear shapes. So too, was lying still for the 20 minutes it took for the print to develop – with more than 20 people taking part it’s remarkable that we managed it!

Congratulations to Melanie King, Constanza Isaza Martinez and Andres Pantoja on their new record.

On Light was a four day programme of events held by Wellcome Collection in partnership with UCL to mark the International Year of Light and Light based Technologies. For more information about Wellcome Collection events, visit the Wellcome Collection website.

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