Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography about Karl Blossfeldt:
Karl Blossfeldt depicted plants by the thousands—in photographs which feature flowers, buds, branched stems, clusters, or seed capsules shot directly from the side, seldom from an overhead view, and rarely from a diagonal perspective. He usually placed the subjects of his photographs against white or grey cardboard, sometimes against a black background. Hardly ever can details of the room be detected. The light for his shots was obtained from a northern window, making it diffuse, yet the light came from the side, creating volume. The technique and processing conditions were simple; only the size of the negative format was more demanding. Nothing should detract from the subject. Blossfeldt produced such pictures for over 30 years and producing them was nothing but work.
This line of work was not his main profession, although his fame today rests on his photographs. Rather, plant photography was part of an all-inclusive whole, a teaching concept. He taught for over 30 years at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Berlin. Shortly before his death, when already famous for his photography, he announced his intention to publish his teaching methods, in order to place the images in their right as he saw it. Neither this plan nor that of completing an archive of plant photographs was ever realised. 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 out- side of his personal sphere. But Karl Blossfeldt's life achievement occupies a firm place in the history of twentieth century photography.
To a certain extent, he had foreseen that he neither would be recognised as a photographer in the style of plant-loving still life painters nor as an artist in his own field, sculpture. He knew that his photographs were part of a straight vision just recently discovered before his first exhibition in 1925, and he hoped that, at least, his photographs would teach people to look more closely at nature, even through art. Two sentences of his rare writings encapsulate all of his ideas:
But the plant never falls into the sober representation of a mere object; it forms and grows according to logic and function, and, with primeval power, forces everything to the most sublime artistic form....My flower documents should contribute to restoring the relationship to nature. They should reawaken a sense for nature, point out its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the local plant world.
(Blossfeldt 1932, 5)
Born in the Harz Mountains in central Germany, Karl Blossfeldt grew up in the country surrounded by plants and animals, which he enjoyed drawing and modelling. His education included an arts and crafts apprenticeship, a craftsman’s scholarship for further education in drawing, and some musical instruction about which sparse biographical sources provide no details. He appears to have wavered between a career as a relief sculptor and that of a singer’s rehearser until he was given the task that was to determine his life’s work. As a student of the Berlin School of Arts and Crafts he was asked to produce models for drawing classes in accordance with the method of Moritz Meurer, then his teacher. Meurer and six of his students were given a grant to live and work in Rome for six years in order to produce a collection of drawings and models of natural ornaments to be used by Germany’s indus- try. Karl Blossfeldt was one of the two modelers in this party.
Moritz Meurer and his assistants not only collected, drew, and cast botanical specimen in Rome and its outlying regions, but also systematically photographed plants. Shoots were removed from stems, roots cut back and, if necessary, buds opened. The plant types were stuck on a support, mounted before a uniform background, and ex- posed. In the history of photography the adoption of this method with its roots in painting was a tradition in itself. The first publication of the project was dedicated to a single plant—acanthus (cow- parsnip)—and its influence on ancient art; two of its photographs bear Blossfeldt's name. They show the leaf and stem of the acanthus with the characteristic pointed tips and crenature on the head, pictured before a grey background. When the book was published in 1896, Moritz Meurer returned to Berlin and left Blossfeldt without subsidy.
For a time Karl Blossfeldt went through a phase of reorientation, undecided whether to stay in Italy, emigrate to the United States, or assume employment in the German arts and crafts industry. In the end, he chose a position as an assistant teacher for modelling from plants at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin. In 1899 he was elevated to the post of lecturer. Blossfeldt’s task in his beginners’ classes was essentially that of demonstrating that the best constructions for industrial designs had already been anticipated in nature. So he did, with nearly no change and development until his dismissal in 1930—and as steady as his teaching method was his use of the camera.
In 1925, the Berlin gallerist Karl Nierendorf recognized Karl Blossfeldt and his plant photographs. He immediately realised their similarity to 1920s’ avantgarde art, asked Blossfeldt to print a larger number of exhibition photographs, and subsequently pre- pared their publication in a book. It appeared under the title Urformen der Kunst (Basic Forms of Art) in 1926, with a second issue within one year, and was translated into several languages. The great photo- graphic exhibition of 1929, Film und Foto in Stuttgart, showed his work with the greatest respect possible. After 1930 there was scarcely a major photo exhibition and nearly no important annual without Blossfeldt’s images. In the autumn of 1930, Karl Blossfeldt had reached retirement age and gave up teaching in order to devote himself to the evaluation of his plant archives. His second book of photo- graphs, Wundergarten der Natur (Nature’s Wonderful Garden), was published in the spring of 1932. On December 3, 1932, Karl Blossfeldt died in Berlin.
Karl Blossfeldt - like Beth Dow proved that nature doesn't have to be wild and that geometric and organic are not necessarily two completely different things. That's what I find amazing about Blossfeldt's research.