Vietnam in Cyanotype

Since arriving in Hanoi seven years ago, French photographer Julie Vola has snapped, taught and edited her way to the forefront of the photography scene in the capital.

She had always been interested in alternative photography processes, and a recent trip to Singapore’s House of Photography sparked a new love affair; cyanotype printing.

Before modern printing methods rendered it obsolete, cyanotype was once the medium of architects, botanists and engineers, who used it to make low-cost copies of drawings, especially blueprints.

“I first learned about cyanotype printing when I was 17,” says Julie, “but I haven’t done it for over 15 years, so I’m kind of re- learning the process.”

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The Process

Originally invented by English astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842, it’s now enjoying a revival by creative types looking to add a new depth of meaning to their work, and Julie is the first photographer in Hanoi to dabble with the process in a meaningful way.

The chemicals involved are potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate, two powders which are dissolved in water and combined to create a sensitizer solution.

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The solution is then painted onto paper, and dried inside home-made lightproof boxes.

“I mostly work at night, because my apartment is very bright,” explains Julie. “It would be great to have a real dark room, but I make do.”

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Negatives of her photos, printed on a transparent sheet material such as mica, are then laid down on top of the coated paper, and left outside to absorb UV light.

The coated paper gradually moves through shades of green, blue and bronze. Depending on the conditions, optimum exposure can be anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes.

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Finally, the paper is submerged in water, washing away the chemicals, and leaving behind a dreamy, poetic image in vivid shades of deep blue.

After a recent successful exhibition of her cyanotype prints at Ke Quan, Julie is now preparing a series of workshops where others can learn to create their own cyanotype prints.

For more info, email Julie Vola on

Photos by Sasha Arefieva and Julie Vola

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