Cyanotypes as memories

Large cyanotypes depict old scratched and blurry photographs from the artist’s archive.

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© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind

The series Dust in the Wind by German artist Katja Liebmann comprises large cyanotypes depicting old scratched and blurry photographs from the artist’s archive. The photo works are a form of memories of impressions of the cities she visited. Coming from the former DDR, travelling was a major discovery. “It was a great experience. I felt like Columbus discovering the new world.”

© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind

Katja Liebmann grew up in Berlin, a torn city at that time. During her youth, she lived in East Berlin, the DDR part of the city. “I always wondered what was on the other side behind the wall. It was a completely different world and social order. We often heard about the West and its capitalism at school. That triggered a huge interest in me to go there. In my early twenties, the wall came down, and I could travel. As a city person, I jumped to cities like London and New York and, of course, West Berlin.”

These travels were a great experience for the young artist. “I felt like Columbus discovering the new word. Now, I am a citizen of the Western world, and I am not so excited anymore. The cities have changed. In my photography, I show the past and my memories. I have all these images in my archive. They are very precious to me because they are connected to my memories. At that time, I used photography as a medium to absorb the impressions of the cities. Nowadays, I don’t feel that same connection as I did before. I think these days, many people are continually distracted and alienated because they are engaged with technical devices.”

© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind

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Dust in the Wind

During the pandemic, Katja Liebmann could not travel, and because of that, she had plenty of time. While at home, with not much to do, she rediscovered her analogue archive. “I had a box full of negatives which I shot with a cheap camera. In these early images, I had materialised my memories. I deliberately printed some images as negatives. In this way, they seem more ghostly, more phantom-like. Moreover, printing the images as negatives takes them away from the physical reality; they become reconstructed images. They are blurred and scratched, making them like my memories.”

© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind

© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind


Photography, as a regular medium, is irrelevant for Liebmann. She uses photography to express her ideas. “I am not interested in digital photography, but mainly in analogue techniques. I worked a lot with the pinhole camera.”

The artworks are cyanotypes, an old photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, discovered by John Herschel in 1842. A photosensitive solution is applied to watercolour paper and developed with sunlight. Coming from a painting background, Liebmann became naturally interested in this old technique. “When I was young, I studied painting, but gradually I became more and more interested in graphic printing techniques and later especially in old photographic techniques. I taught myself different classical techniques like the cyanotype. You must coat the papers with a brush and a liquid chemical solution, making it like painting. After the sensitisation, you must print the image with a negative of the same size as the final print. To expose the print, I put it in the garden in the sun. Afterwards, you rinse the etching paper with water, and you’re done! The process is beautiful. I love its simplicity. It results in a wonderful blue, velvet image. It is additive to work with it. Over the years, I have developed my own technique and style. I will not reveal my autodidactic obtained knowledge, but I can tell the sun is the most important part of it.”

© Katja Liebmann | Dust in the wind


Some of the artworks are presented as triptychs, giving them a religious and classic connotation. Liebmann: “I like beauty and harmony, elements that seem not to belong to art anymore today. Contemporary art apparently needs to be innovative and confrontative. Beauty almost appears to be a tabu as if beauty would be subversive. The use of triptychs can be seen as a hint, referring to a classical approach to art. The triptychs also create a dynamic between the images and give them a narrative aspect.”

Katja Liebmann (1965) was born in Halle an der Saale, grew up in Berlin and is based in Oldenburg, Germany. Education: Academy of Fine Arts, Nuremberg, Kunsthochschule Berlin, Royal College of Art, London.
The works of Katja Liebermann will be exposed at HackelBury Fine Art, London in February 2022.
Due to Covid restrictions over Christmas new opening dates: From 4th March until 23rd April 2022

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