Karl Blossfeldt – Why His Flower Photography Matters
Back in the day, I used to supplement my income by being a “finder.” If a client wanted something related to art/furniture, I could find it. I knew my fair share about art history/design and invariably I invariably “knew a guy” who could get his/her hands on a certain piece – be it a chair, a painting or a photograph. Years ago I was tasked with finding prints by some guy named Karl Blossfeldt. Admittedly I had never heard of him, and had never seen any Karl Blossfeldt art. The research and hunt for requested prints was afoot! It was then that fell down the Blossfeldt rabbit hole. Read on, and if you don’t already know about him, I can only imagine that you will fall under the same spell I did all those years ago.
Karl Blossfeldt – Japanese Primrose
Karl Blossfeldt – Gray’s Sedge
Karl Blossfeldt – Indian Balsam
Who is Karl Blossfeldt, Anyway?
Karl Blossfeldt was a German photographer – an “accidental” one, at that. Blossfeldt was actually a sculpture and design professor at his alma mater, The Royal School of the Museum of Decorative Arts. As a professor, he was challenged with finding a way to teach his students about the morphology of plants. Keeping plant subjects from decaying was a recurring issue, so Blossfeldt turned to photography to solve this problem. Photographed plants NEVER decay.
Karl Blossfeldt is considered one of the major figures (willing or unwilling) of the modernist post World War I movement, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). Coined by German art historian, critic, and curator Friedrich Hartlaub, Neue Sachlichkeit was a reaction against expressionism. Primarily a German movement, it faded by 1933 with the fall of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of the Nazi party.
Karl Blossfeldt Macro Photography
At the turn of the twentieth century there were no cameras that were capable of taking the macro photos that Blossfeldt sought, so he developed his own camera – fitted with special magnifying lenses. Using his newly invented camera Blossfeldt was able to create the detailed images of plants that he wanted his students to use as sculptural references. In his lifetime, Blossfeldt amassed more than 6,000 photographic images – a stunning amount for the time.
Karl Blossfeldt – Aconitum
Karl Blossfeldt – Hop Tree Branch
Karl Blossfeldt – Weeping Forsythia
Art Forms In Nature & Wundergarten der Natur
In 1928 Blossfeldt published “Urformen der Kunst” (Art Forms in Nature). His intention for the book was to serve as a teaching aid, but it was quickly recognized as an important work of art. “Wundergarten der Natur” was released posthumously in 1932 and offers an even wider glimpse into the amazing images he was able to capture. Blossfeldt flower photography is still heralded today as some of the most haunting, elegant images of plants ever produced.
Karl Blossfeldt – Spurred Bellflower
Karl Blossfeldt – Grass Pink
Karl Blossfeldt – Red Veined Maple
The Photogravure Process
Maintaining fine detail was of utmost importance to Blossfeldt and so for his prints he utilized the photogravure process. Although not a common practice these days, this time consuming, labor intensive process was a must for Blossfeldt when reproducing his macro flower images. Basically photogravure is a photomechanical process. It is also known as a form of intaligio printing. The print is made from a metal plate like an etching or engraving, using ink to produce the image. The plate (traditionally made of copper) is made light sensitive, exposed to a negative, and then etched in acid. It was originally favored because it was possible to make bulk images of consistently detailed quality.
Karl Blossfeldt Facts
To cut to the chase, here is a simple Blossfeldt timeline, chock full of Karl Blossfeldt facts :
1865 – Karl Blossfeldt is born to August and Johanna Blossfeldt in Schielo, Germany.
1890 (until 1896) – Blossfeldt apprenticed in Rome under German artist Moritz Muerer.
1898 – Blossfeldt is appointed to a position at The Royal School of the Museum of Decorative Arts.
1898 (until 1910) – Blossfeldt is married to Maria Plank. Divorces.
1912 (until his death in 1932) – Blossfeldt is married to Helene Blossfeldt.
1926 – Blossfeldt is invited to exhibit his work by famed gallerist Karl Nierendorf.
1928 – “Urformen der Kunst) is published and becomes an overnight sensation.
1932 – Blossfeldt dies from cancer at the age of 67.
2001 – Karl Blossfeldt’s “Urformen der Kunst” is included in “The Book of 101 Books” as one of the seminal photography books of the twentieth century.
Admittedly I’m still a bit of a Blossfeldt addict and several framed prints adorn my walls. I can only imagine that after seeing these samples of his work, and discovering how these images were created that you, too, will be smitten. Looking for your own Blossfeldt Prints to hang? Check some out HERE. Enjoy!