How nice of a famous search engine based in Mountain View (CA, USA) to have dedicated a doodle to a British woman born on this date (i.e. the 16th of March) 216 years ago.
Anna Atkins, who is being honoured today by Google, lost her mother a few months after she was born. She was brought up by her father, a scientist. As a result, she had the privilege to receive a scientific education, which was quite unusual in those days.
She helped her father who was working on a translation of Jean (Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de) Lamarck’s work on shells by providing the illustrations. Through her father and her husband, she became acquainted with the work of the early English photographers William Fox Talbot and William Herschel and she set out to use a photographic process called cyanotype photograms to produce illustrations more quickly than by engravings. She self-published two works, ‘Photographs of British algae. Cyanotype impressions.’ and ‘Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns’.
My point here is not really to celebrate this early woman scientist (who was made a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839), nor to congratulate the famous search engine based in California for this highly appropriate decision on their part to honour Anna Atkins, born 216 years ago on 16 March (even though some have claimed that the doodle bears only a faint semblance to the original pictures: ‘a doodle that nicely evokes, though hardly does justice to the delicacy of, her cyanotypes of botanical specimens’, The Guardian). Rather I would take this opportunity to simply highlight the aesthetic similarities between her work and that of 20th/21st century photographers or scientists who have taken pictures of drops of water (including, of course, Masaru Emoto) or of snowflakes: all show the beautiful patterns present in nature. Is such beauty not fascinating?
- Entry on Anna Watkins, Halstead Parish Council, 17 March 2010
- ‘Anna Atkins’, the J. Paul Getty Museum
- ‘Photographs of British algae. Cyanotype impressions.’, The British Library
- ‘Anna Atkins: Google’s tribute to a pioneer of botany and photography’, Rebekah Higgitt, The Guardian, 16 March 2015
- Why are there so few doodles showing women? (post on this blog)
PS 16 March is also the anniversary of a tragic event, the voluntary burning to death of unrepentant Cathar credentes after the hilltop fortress of Montségur (the last Cathar bastion) had surrendered to the French Inquisition (16 March 1244).