(From Wikipedia, the
Karl Blossfeldt (1865 –
1932) was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist who worked
in Berlin, Germany, at the turn of the century. He worked with a camera he
designed himself. That camera allowed him to greatly magnify the objects
he was capturing, to up to 30 times their actual size. He spent much of
his time devoted to the study of nature. In his career of more than 30
years, he photographed nothing but plants, or rather, sections of plants.
In many of his photographs, he would zoom in so close to a plant that the
plant no longer looked like a plant. The images he created looked more
like lovely, abstract forms. His photos revealed the amazing detail found
When Karl Blossfeldt began his career, photography was still quite new.
Many people saw it as a scientific tool. They looked at it as an
infallible means of capturing the world. Many people did not look at
photography as an art form yet. Blossfeldt's work can be seen as a
transition between looking at photography as just science and looking at
photography as art.
Blossfeldt was born in Schielo, the Unterharz region of Germany. He
attended high school in the nearby village of Harzgerode and graduated
with a secondary school certificate. He started as a sculpture and
modelling apprentice at the iron foundry in Mägdesprung by the Harz
mountains. Between 1884 and 1890, he took music and drawing classes at the
Lehranstalt des Königlich Preussischen Kunstgewerbemuseums (The Royal
Institute of Arts and Crafts), in Berlin thanks to a fellowship granted by
the Prussian government.
Over the next decade, Blossfeldt traveled around Italy, Greece, and North
Africa, where he started collecting plant material for drawing classes and
systematically documented single plant samples with photographs under the
tutelage of Moritz Meurer, who published some of the young photographer’s
work. In 1898, Blossfeldt joined the Kunstgewerbliche Lehranstalt,
teaching modelling based on plant samples and his own photographs as class
material. He held this position for 31 years.
His works focused on the beauty of nature. He chose to use the organic
forms of the earth to contrast against stark backgrounds so that the
shapes he created focused on the small detail of nature, making it the
main focus of the image and to show these natural compositions on scales
as small as ornamental ironwork and as large as the shapes of entire
In 1912, he married Helene Wegener, an opera singer. She was his second
wife. Together they traveled around southern Europe and northern Africa.
In 1921, he was appointed Hochschule für bildende Künste professor at the
Institute in Berlin.
Blossfeldt's botanical photographs, which Meurer had used as teaching
material in his drawing manual, were first exhibited at Berlin's Gallery
Nierendorf in 1926 and were published in several illustrated magazines and
books on architecture and design theory. The 1928 publication of Urformen
der Kunst (Archetypes of Art), a stunning collection of extreme closeup
photos of plants, earned Blossfeldt a place as a pioneer in the New
Objectivity art movement. The book received enthusiastic responses from
both literary circles and the general public.
His success was followed by another exhibition at the Bauhaus in Dessau in
1929, and a series of botanical photographs were published in Documents to
illustrate Georges Bataille's article "The Language of Flowers" (1929,
issue 3). Blossfeldt retired from teaching to emeritus status at the
college in 1930.
His Second Series of Art Forms in Nature were published in Wundergarten
der Natur (Magical Garden of Nature), which was published in the year he
died, 1932. Blossfeldt's lifespan mirrors almost exactly that of the
objective photographer Wilson Bentley (1865–1931), from the U.S. state of
Vermont, whose work focused on photographically recording snowflakes and