12 October 2007

Karl Blossfeldt

A recent comment on this blog brought up the name of Karl Blossfeldt, the German photographer. Blossfeldt (1865-1932) dedicated his life to photographing plants (an example of his work is above--two photos of Dutch Rush (Equisetum hyemale). Blossfeldt was interested in capturing the symmetry of plants and using these sorts of photographs in his classes at the Berlin’s Charlottenburg School of Arts and Crafts to teach how one might design using nature as a model. He is best known for his book, Art Forms in Nature (1928).

Blossfeldt never bought his specimens at florists. He preferred to find them on country roads, along railway tracks, or other “proletarian places.” He also focused on common weed-like plants, which he considered far more interesting than more ornamental flowers like orchids. Blossfeldt took more than 6,000 photographs using a wooden camera he designed himself.

It is hard not to see some of his photographs as somehow emblematic of the emerging age of mass production and urbanization. These are not images of grass waving in the wind or next to rushing rivers. These are species captured magically alone and often 12 times their original size. At times they look like skyscrapers from a unknown Fritz Lang movie, others look more like wild, surrealist sculpture, part M.C. Escher, part Hieronymus Bosch. To be honest, it is difficult to look at some of his images—and to know that these horrifying explosions of plant life are actually living in parks and vacant lots.

Equisetum hyemale, which is not a true rush, is also used by clarinet players to improve reeds.

Taschen, the publisher, put out a very nice paperback on Blossfeldt in 2001. Much of the information above came from this source.

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