A botanist and photographer, she was considered the first person to illustrate a book with photographs, Photographs of British Algae (1849-1850) and the first woman to take a photograph. She signed her work AA and some thought this stood for Anonymous Amateur which hid her identity for a time.
You were the first blue
though they didn’t know you.
Today curators call your work ghostly, fascinated
by the ammonium ferric citrate,
the potassium ferricyanide,
by that light-sensitive paper, so azure.
You walked to the edge of River Darent
that cut across North Downs, the hills afar, yet nearer.
You could be alone here with your mother,
plunging your arm into water into Ulva latissimi,
its ruches covering your entire hand, as it bloomed from water.
Where did you begin and the specimen
end as you listened to the underwater forest whisper,
the way the tendrils swayed and etched themselves
into unique bodies of tangled time that remembered,
but forgot itself at once and knew who’d gone before
and who would follow, welcoming your bone hands
into its depths and what you’d dry upon the cyanotypes,
its feathering within the water could be still.
Their outlines and the way they clouded the waters could
have been ghostly, but also a memory.
The way ghosts are what we’d once forgotten
and then remembered in time to see again, standing there.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 4.
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