by Gerald Boerner
“Blossfeldt was an amazing man, did the kind of macro we’re used to seeing only with huge field cameras!”
— Amateur Photography Blog
“He usually placed the subjects of his photographs against white or grey cardboard, sometimes against a black background. Hardly ever can details of the rooms be detected.”
— Rolf Sachse, from the book Karl Blossfeldt
“Some interesting studies there Larry. I’m glad to see that you at last have got access to the tools needed to match your photographic talent and all credit to Bawbee for assisting you in that area.”
— BigWill Comment, in Amateur Photography Blog
“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring
the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of
nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt
the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”
— Karl Blossfeldt
“It is therefore even more surprising that Blossfeldt was able to achieve this so easily, considering that he accomplished it seemingly uninfluenced by questions of artistic or photographic history categories.”
— Artdaily.org website
“So the isolating, monumental and formalistic approach to nature not only tied in well with concepts of New Functionalism, but was also successively interpreted as illustrating the relationship between Art and Nature and as a precursor of Conceptual Art.”
— Art Blart, 28 March 2009
“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”
— Karl Blossfeldt
“When man uses the camera without any preconceived idea of final results, when he uses the camera as a means to penetrate the objective reality of facts, to acquire truth, when he tries to represent by itself and not by adapting it to any system of emotional representation, then, man is doing photography”
— Marius de Zayas, friend of Stieglitz
“Karl Blossfeldt first published his photographs of plants in 1928, achieving overnight fame. (…) By manifoldly enlarging the inner structures of plants, Blossfeldt was able to reveal their organic form (…) Karl Blossfeldt was neither a trained photographer nor a botanist. He was a sculptor who, as a professor of art, was interested in plants for didactic reasons.”
— Karl Blossfeldt, in Art Forms in Nature
Karl Blossfeldt (1865 – 1932)
Karl Blossfeldt was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher and artist who worked in Berlin, Germany. He is famous for his close up photographs of plants.
Karl Blossfeldt was a botanist and photographer in turn-of-the-century Berlin. His entire photographic output is devoted to plant parts: twig ends, seed pods, tendrils, leaf buds, etc. These he meticulously arranged against stark backgrounds and photographed in magnification, so that unfamiliar shapes from the messy vegetal world are revealed as startling, elegant architectural forms. Indeed, his pictures influenced many architects and decorative artists of his time, who quoted Blossfeldt’s forms on scales as small as ornamental ironwork and as large as the shapes of entire buildings.
Much like Andreas Feininger, Blossfeldt was deeply interested in forms and textures that nature uses over and over again, especially at scales not often noticed by the eye. Much like Robert Mapplethorpe, his photos also show a preoccupation for formal elements of beauty, regardless of where they may occur.
Blossfeldt achieved recognition for his microphotographs of plants, which were first seen by the public in his book Urformen der Kunst (The Originary Forms of Art), published in 1928. His book contains 120 of the almost 6,000 microphotographs he had taken since 1890, when his teacher, Moritz Meurer, assigned him to make a collection of natural forms as an inspiration. He wished to show that although nature and art are profoundly different, all forms of art have their beginning in the forms of nature. In addition to his personal work as a photographer, Blossfeldt was an art professor in Berlin.
He always considered his work as a teaching tool, not as independent works of art. The beauty of the natural forms he photographed and the objectivity and lack of sentimentality in his work readily connect him to such New Objectivity photographers as August Sander and Albert Renger Patzsch.
This line of work was not his main profession, although his fame today rests on his photographs. Rather, plant photography was part of a teaching concept, of which he was only partly the author. He taught for over thirty years at the Kunstgewerbeschule (College of Arts and Crafts) in the Charlottenburg quarter of Berlin. Shortly before his death, he announced his intention to publish his teaching methods. Neither this plan nor that of completing an archive of plant photographs was ever realized. What has remained are bundles of photographs, which have made history on their own, and the memory of a teacher, who like so many in his field left no lasting impression outside of his personal sphere.
The plant photographs were produced by simple means. Legend has it that a relatively straight-forward homemade camera was used, one common in its time and not very large, with a format of 9 X 12 cm. The glass plates which served as negatives were coated with inexpensive but not completely neutral-coloured orthochromatic emulsion, and occasionally – after 1902, as they became more widely available – with panchromatic emulsions, making possible a neutral reproduction of the colour red in halftones. Since the first emulsion was thin and therefore enabled high contrast with extremely sharp edges, it served especially to stress the structural elements. It was thus used primarily for photographs with white or grey backgrounds. The rarer photos with panchromatic emulsions were used to illustrate entire clusters or beds of flowers with a wider variation of chromatic values or halftones.
The most significant advance in Blossfeldt’s photo technique was in the processing stages. Rather than making prints from developed negatives or using the gum process or carbon prints (both popular at the time), Blossfeldt made slides for projection. The most common slide format before World War I (8.5 x 10.5 cm) corresponded more or less to Blossfeldt’s format; he could then select the desired section of the photo by blocking out the rest with black strips. There are no documentary records of the projection of his slides as drawing copies. We know of two methods of projection employed around 1910 however, of which he surely also made use.
One method was to project the slides onto the wall and have the students draw from the enlarged projection. The other method, used in textile design, involved reflecting the projected photo with mirrors onto the drawing board, where the students simply traced over the contours. This last exercise reduced the focus to the formal framework alone, with little relation to the original plant.
On the other hand, in terms of repeated patterns and mechanics, it offered more possibilities for the application of the drawing. For such a projection to serve the mechanical copying of formal properties, the slides had to fill one precondition: they had to show the object clearly and without extraneous details. This was exactly the quality of Blossfeldt’s work, and in particular the quality of his collection of plant photographs
He wanted to give substance to the then popular notion that nature is the ultimate creative genius behind all artists and all styles of art – that, in the words of an early critic of his photographs,
"the delicacy of a Rococo ornament, the severity of a Renaissance chandelier, the mystically tangled scroll work of flamboyant Gothic, domes, towers, and the noble shafts of columns – a whole exotic language of architecture. Crosiers embossed in gold, wrought with trellises, rich sceptres: all these man-made forms find their original form in the world of plants."
Blossfeldt wished to show how logic and suitability could lead to the highest degrees of visual form. To do so, he editorialized at every juncture by carefully choosing plants with a character that suited his ends. In the selectively cast lighting, the close-up point of view, and the neutral background, he directed our attention to the particular details that he wished us to see first. The menacing thorns are half in shadow and half in light in order to exaggerate their mordant character and possibly to suggest something from the arsenal of a satanic warrior.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Karl Bloomfeldt that can be found at…
Masters of Photography: Karl Bloomfeldt …
Photography: Soulcatcher Studio on Karl Bloomfeldt…