TREADING LIGHT: Alyson Belcher

The photographs in Treading Light are created using one of the earliest and most basic photographic processes-the cyanotype-to observe the interaction between sunlight and chemistry on paper. In an era when photographs exist primarily on screens in two-dimensional virtual space, Treading Light celebrates the tactile physicality of the photograph.


These images are created by arranging various translucent materials on top of paper that has been coated with a light sensitive cyanotype emulsion. The paper is exposed to sunlight, which passes through the translucent materials and leaves a visual record of its presence on the paper. The cyanotype process was originally used by Anna Atkins in the 1840’s to document plant specimens for her botanical studies. The blue color of the cyanotype results from the iron in the chemistry (ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide). It’s an iron-based process, rather than silver-based like most traditional photographic processes.


A photograph on paper holds value not just because of the image it contains, but because of its physicality as a unique object. It has a life of its own, beginning in the hands of the creator and continuing through every destination to which it travels over time. How many hands has it passed through? Where has it been exhibited? How has it been archived? A photograph has meaning and value as an artifact with a unique provenance. It’s important to me that the cyanotypes in Treading Light have a tactile presence in real time. Each image represents a fleeting interaction between light, time and chemistry that can never be repeated.