Photographer’s Jackdaw Cyanotype Series Helped Her Cope with Grief

Cyanotype prints of birds

Photographer Deborah Parkin’s beautiful Jackdaw photo series printed with the cyanotype method was a major factor in helping her cope with the death of her father.

Photography as a Tool For Expression

Based in the Northumberland, United Kingdom, Parkin was always interested in photography but it wasn’t until her children were born that she became immersed in the medium. Heavily pregnant with her daughter, she did a darkroom evening course at a local school and quickly fell in love with photography.

“I love the versatility of photography as an artistic medium,” Parkin tells PetaPixel. “We are living in such an exciting time where we can use photography for whatever reason we want. We can use it to take ‘snaps’ and record our daily lives or we can make beautiful works of art that we put on our walls or into books. I love that I can take my phone and photograph the walk that I am on, or I can take my large format camera and make wet plate collodion portraits.”

Cyanotype print of birds

Five years ago, Parkin’s dad died, and as a result, she stepped away from creativity and recording family life, although unintentionally. It took a particular photography process — cyanotype — for Parkin to reignite her passion.

What is a Cyanotype?

Parkin was first introduced to cyanotypes after seeing the work of Anna Atkins, an English botanist and photographer, often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images.

The cyanotype refers to a photographic printing process that involves two chemicals — ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide — and the UV light produced by the sun. Traditional cyanotypes result in blue-toned prints but they can also be toned with ingredients like tea, coffee, and wine for different looks.┬áThe process can be done at home and the chemicals don’t require a large investment.

Cyanotype print of birds

Although Parkin had come across this type of photography several years prior, it wasn’t until after her son bought her a book on cyanotypes and said he wanted Parkin to start work again, that she started her jackdaw — a type of dark bird, closely related to the crows and ravens– series with cyanotypes.

Cyanotype print of birds Cyanotype print of birds Cyanotype print of birds Cyanotype print of birds

“I live next to a moor, and we have a lot of jackdaws living here — during my grieving period I found myself watching them every day, and then I started to photograph them which then became cyanotype prints.”

As with all of Parkin’s projects, it’s essential to consider what process to use as a means of expressing her intentions. Because the Jackdaw series is about Parkin’s father and grief, the blue-toned prints seemed an apt process to use.

“In her book on the colour blue, Carol Mavor talks of blue being the colour of memory and this felt relevant to my work,” Parkin explains.

Tea-Toned Cyanotypes

Parkin’s latest body of work uses cyanotypes with tea toning. Although the project is still in the early stages of development, Parkin explains the intention is to portray the world in which she lives.

tea-toned cyanotypes of wildlife

“The world of living on a moor where it can be bleak, and the colors drain away in the winter. The tea tone is very earthy, and this feels perfect for photographing the moor and the life that I live.”

tea-toned cyanotypes of wildlife

The choice of paper matters, too. Recently, Parkin has been experimenting with Japanese papers to see what gives the best results.

“The papers are beautiful — very tactile and perfect for making small prints. As for the subject matter, I am just photographing what I see around me — it is very barren, remote and at times bleak.”

tea-toned cyanotypes of wildlife tea-toned cyanotypes of wildlife tea-toned cyanotypes of wildlife

“However, it is also teeming with wildlife and incredibly beautiful. With the tea-toned cyanotypes, I am trying to capture all of this. I want something that portrays the contradictory nature of life on the Pennine Hills the barrenness and the beauty.”

More of Parkin’s work and the behind-the-scenes progress of her projects can be found on her website and Instagram page.


Image credits: Photos by Deborah Parkin.

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