More on photography, cyanotypes and the 3/4 year olds

The children in the Garden room have continued to focus on photography, both in how it can be used in the classroom (for documenting happenings and artwork, for taking pictures of people and events, like birthday circles), and how how it works. The Garden room teachers have provided many provocations about photography, including some x-rays on the light table. This led to some hypothesizing about how x-rays are possible.

Last week Lukas and Oliver came to the studio.I told them I had the chemicals in a jar, and asked them if they would like to put it on some paper so they could make some more photographs. Lukas painted "Mr. Bones", our model skeleton onto the paper.
The next day, Lukas, Oliver and Dahlia came back to the studio to make some x-rays out of the now dry paper.

Later, I went back to ask them about that experience;
"Remember when you put the chemicals on some paper and made those pictures? I wonder if you could tell me about that day, so I could write it down. How did those pictures get there?"

Oliver "It’s magic"

Luke (narrating) "Can everyone see our X rays? On our paper that’s white and blue? It shows our x-rays. The x-ray is Mr. Bones. The other x-ray is a painting of Mr. Bones. The other one is not an x-ray, it’s just a man."

Oliver “It’s magic. It’s magic with the sun. The sun makes light.”

Anna -Oliver, can you tell me that steps of how to do it?

“1. paint on the green chemical
2. have to put it in the sink.

3. have to keep it still.

4. put it on for a long time.

5. have to run back, to put it in the sink.
You have to run, so the shadow doesn’t get off.
So the green doesn’t go off, and turns to blue.”

"1. the sun helps paper get the blue.
2. you put the things on, like Mr. Bones, leaves or sticks.
3. Quickly run to the sink to get the paper in it.
Rule #5. First you need the sunshine. It shines on the
paper. Then, the paper gets all blue.”
10. You get it out of the sink and take it to the Garden room, and hang it up for all the Garden room children to see."

I read back what they had said, and Oliver made this revision regarding where the 'shadow' gets on to the paper;
Oliver “I meant, when you’re outside, you have to keep it on for a long time, and you have to keep it still for a long time, when you’re outside.”

I can see that Oliver still has trouble between his assumption (that the picture forms in the sink), and what he has seen, (the 'shadow' gets on the paper outside in the sun). He is still struggling in his mind to form a clear theory of this photographic process. Lukas may be altering his theory to go along with what Oliver says about the sink. Perhaps I should interview Dahlia as the tie-breaker!


  1. I remember the first time I used chemicals in a sink during high school, in a darkroom.
    And I have to agree with Oliver, it's magic.
    I continued in college with b & w photography and learned theory in depth. I still have to agree with's magic.

  2. The word I like to use to describe the feeling I get from amazing things that seem magical is "wonder". I find that wonder drives me to find out what makes the magic happen! Sharing that process with kids is such a joy.

    Would you be willing to share a cyanotype tutorial with us so that those of us at home can play along? I tried some Setacolor paints once and had no success with them (and I think I donated them to you). Best paint? Technique that works? As always, I feel humbled by the skills of preschoolers!

  3. As you know I am a point-and-shoot utilitarian iPhone photographer, but posts like these make me want to understand more about photography. I'm sitting on pins and needles right now because one of my parents has expressed an interest in making a fairly significant donation to the school, but she wants it to be "something," not just cash. I've asked for a fleet of digital cameras for the kids to use. Then I'll be asking you how to use them.

    I want to echo theloushe and wonder if you might share a cyanotype tutorial. Please?

  4. A tutorial is in the works. thanks folks!

  5. Anna- I've used pre-treated cyanotype paper. What was your process here?? Did you publish a tutorial? -Alison : )


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