Blue Prints: The Natural World in Cyanotype Photographs
Is blue the perfect color? It has always been my favorite. Give me a blue pen over a black one any day. I’m sure I write better in blue.
The spectrum of blue runs from the deep color of the midnight sky to the lightest translucent butterfly’s wings. The accompanying emotions generated by the color are as varied. First-prize ribbons are blue; so is depression. When I look at blue I feel simultaneously exhilarated and pleasantly melancholic, without knowing why.
Zeva Oelbaum’s cyanotypes play with this vast range of possibilities. Using nineteenth-century techniques to create her photographs, she brings to life a rich, infinite variety of blues: the blue-black of a curved tulip petal; the delicate, clear blue veins of a peony leaf; the bony blue scumble of a skink skull; the smooth, lickable royal blue of a chicken egg.
In the process, many of the subjects’ details have disappeared, leaving only the skeletal silhouette. But as Zeva has instinctively grasped, less is more. Take away other colors and all but the necessary outline, and you see straight into the essence of the thing itself.
Look at the cyanotype, of a small bunch of lilies of the valley opposite the title page—decisive stalks, leaves like cirrus clouds scored with a fork, flowers like rows of blue pearls. They do not look quite like plants, but like a dance, a pattern, a life. I stare at that photograph and think, “Yes, blue is the color of the soul.”