Sunprints: A Favorite Family Activity

Summer after summer, photographer Rinne Allen heads from her home in Athens, Georgia, to coastal Maine. Surrounded by natural beauty, she and her loved ones wander the lush woods and rocky beaches in search of little treasures -- feathers, pinecones, ribbons of kelp -- for making sunprints, a favorite family activity.

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey
Depending on the light-sensitive solution used, the backgrounds can turn out sepia, black, or blue.

Every July or August, when the heat in Athens, Georgia, can feel sticky and oppressive, photographer Rinne Allen packs up and heads north in hopes of cooler breezes. She finds them all the way up in Maine, where she has spent summers with her family for more than a decade. For the native Southerner, her holiday is a chance to slow down, get creative inspiration, and bond with loved ones.

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey

The entire clan -- including her husband and two young sons, her parents, and her sister and brother and their families -- stays under one roof. “It’s right on the water and has a good amount of land. We spend lots of time walking through the woods,” says Allen, whose self-published photography book, "Beauty Everyday: A Year of Southern Beauty," came out last fall.

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey

The term "walking" as a label for their favorite pastime would be a bit of a misnomer, though: “Foraging” and “exploring” would be more accurate. Over the course of several days, the women and kids in her family roam around searching for specimens -- shells, feathers, fern fronds -- to use for sunprinting, an early photography process that uses the sun’s rays to produce enchanting negatives and silhouettes. “It’s a nice contrast to the digitized world of photography,” Allen says.

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey

The beauty of these light drawings is that they can be made by anybody -- even the littlest ones, who are able to enjoy the entire process, from collecting materials to printing. “It also involves the water hose,” she explains, referring to the rinsing part of the process, “so if nothing else, the children will be entertained by that.” Allen finds that kids bring something special to the table, both figuratively and literally. “The smallest eyes sometimes notice the most. Often my son points something out to me -- like a cool pebble -- that doesn’t normally catch my attention.”

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey
Allen and her mom catch up with the rest of the crew to share their finds.

She digitally scans all their light drawings for archival reasons. The ones she creates herself and has “a gut reaction to” she either sells at Terrain, the home-and-gardening chain store (shopterrain.com), or displays in her home. “I may make two prints of similar plant materials, but I’ll fall for one,” she explains. 

How to Make Sunprints
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Photography by: Jennifer Causey
Allen’s 5-year-old son, Claren, in a moment of stillness.

In the end, the process of sunprinting is as important to Allen as the product, if not more so: “Light drawings are the one thing we can enjoy together, without fail, every summer.”

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Photography by: Jennifer Causey
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