For those of you scratching your heads, wondering what the hell an “experience” is, let me explain. In addition to offering an alternative to hotels in literal homes away from home, Airbnb now offers travellers the chance to experience new places through activities hosted by locals in the area.
Pictures of Blue is one such experience offered in Berlin and is a four-hour course where the participant gets to learn about the art of the cyanotype as well as make their own. When we first arrived at Kirsten’s studio, we were greeted with warm tea and snacks in an extremely relaxed setting. We also seriously lucked out, as there was only one other guest attending, so it was an extremely personal experience.
After making the introduction rounds, Kirsten talked to us about cyanotypes and walked us through creating our own cyanotypes on already photosensitive paper coated with the cyanotype chemicals – ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. We placed objects on the paper, exposed it to, UV rays and ran it under the water to reveal our images.
Backtracking a little bit for all of you who aren’t chemists – cyanotype is a photographic printing process that was developed in the 20th century as a very simple way to produce copies of blueprints. Usage for the process grew as those like Anna Atkins used it to document botanicals and artists began to incorporate the process into their work.
The process is relatively simple and extremely cost effective: equal volumes of potassium ferricyanide (8.1%) and ferric ammonium citrate (20%) are mixed. This iron solution is then applied to a receptive service (this technique even works with cloth!) and allowed to dry. The coating process must happen in a dark place so that the now photosensitive material is not exposed to light. Objects (or transparent photos in negative form) are then placed on the paper and exposed to light.
The parts covering the photo-sensitive paper remain unexposed. The iron solution that has not been exposed do not permanently stick to the material. The parts that are see-through become exposed and the iron solution “glues” itself to the paper. The photosensitive material is then placed in water. The water is used to wash away all of the iron solution that has not reacted to the light aka adhered to the paper. You are then left with a cyanotype. The paper can then be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide to intensify the results. The last step is to let the material dry.
After going through the process of creating our own cyanotypes on photosensitive paper, Kirsten walked us through the process of creating our own iron solution and coating our own materials. The results were absolutely incredible, but one word of advice. For those of you interested in taking part in Pictures of Blue or creating cyanotypes at home, if you plan to work with your own negative images (which are fairly simple to create), be sure that you work with an image with lots of contrast for the best results.
Our overall impression? Not only was this an experience in itself extremely interesting – the last time I had made a cyanotype was back in high school in a photo course, but it is a lost art that many have not even heard of – it made me realise that as adults we are so busy trying to adult properly that we forget how therapeutic and good it is for the brain and hands to work together in creative ways. It’s as if we decide at a certain age that crafting and creating are only for professional artists and children.
As a content creator myself, who works with digital photography, but has recently started to shoot in analogue again, it was both nostalgic and exhilarating to dive into another analogue process that is reliant on physical movement.
All in all, I have to say that this Airbnb experience was a hell of a lot of fun. Kirsten was an incredible teacher and an inspiring and gracious human being as well. I can definitely see the appeal of taking part in an Airbnb experience when travelling in order to get to know a different less touristy side of a place, but it’s also a really cool way to explore your own hometown, breathe new life into date-night, or give as a present to a friend or family member.
Photography: Rae Tashman
*LFB always discloses all partnerships. LFB’s EIC was invited by Airbnb to partake in this experience as a social media influencer on her Instagram channel, @raetilly. While a blogpost was not a requirement for the partnership, we found the experience so much fun, that we thought we would share it with you all here for anyone interested in taking part in Kirsten’s workshop, Pictures of Blue.