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Photo Class Pictures the Past Professor of Art Christa Bowden's Spring Term course, Antique Photo Processes, focuses entirely on 19th-century photo processes.

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Students in Christa Bowden’s Spring Term course, Antique Photo Processes, spent the first day of class creating a cyanotype mural. The course focuses entirely on 19th-century photo processes.

Because it was Earth Day, the students chose that theme. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that uses two chemicals, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, to create a beautiful midnight-blue print.

Bowden has been teaching the class since 2007. Before starting the mural, the class received a lecture on the history of the process and contemporary artists using it. “We always do a mural in this class because it is a good collaborative exercise and it helps them to understand how the materials work,” she said.

The sunny, cloudless day was the perfect chance to practice this art. Once the treated fabric was spread out on the patio behind Wilson Hall, students rushed to arrange their materials before too much exposure had taken place. Mims Reynolds ’21 lay in one corner and fanned out her hair while others placed wildflowers, ferns and cutout shapes of insects, clouds and the sun across the square of fabric.

After about 15 minutes in the sun, the mural was carried to a tub of water, where hydrogen peroxide was added. The mural was then rinsed until the water showed no more signs of the chemicals, which turned the water bright yellow. “I’m really excited about this,” Mims said.

As they smoothed out the mural and hung it to dry, students exclaimed over the ethereal white pattern they had created against the rich blue fabric. “That might be the best one we’ve ever done,” Bowden said. “Seriously!”

Click here to read more about W&L Spring Term courses.