By Nina J P Evans

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Botanical Imagination

One of the current exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery is titled: Karl Blossfeldt. His photographs are on display from now until, 14 June 2013 mention:
“Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932) is recognised for his extensive and unique collection of photographic plant portraits that reveal the tactile qualities, intricate forms and uncanny aspects of flora. His fusion of scientific observation, sculptural form and surreal composition pioneered an artistic style that forged new approaches to modern art and photography.”
Karl Blossfeldt composed his photographs beautifully and took great care with the lighting setup avoiding the tonal extremes of dark shadows and bright highlights. The result is seeing greater surface textual detail also the contours of line that describes the subject’s natural forms. His black and white photographs are a study not just of shape, space and form, but of the hidden complexities within these forms. Simply looking at these photographs shows the impossible reality of not being able to grasp these with the human eye without magnification. His pictures illustrate pine cones, buds, stems, dried fruits and seed pods. Photographed at different stages of evolutionary development, and enlarged up to 30 times the actual size of the original form, enabling a more proficient visual enquiry. Also, a renewed delight in looking at something strangely familiar to the variety of plant species in natural hedgerows and gardens of home, this realisation produces a breathtaking effect. The first seeing, of the stark beauty of these natural forms.

The photographs were produced as teaching aids for his students. From 1898-1932 he was a professor of applied art at Berliner Kunsthochschule (College of Arts) in Berlin. Looking at just a few of his macro photographs;  I can see the sculptural architectural possibilities. Possibilities of materials used in making decorative objects, and new designs for embellishments and motifs. An early critic once said 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.”
His photographs were published in two landmark books, and he became very well known during his lifetime. A selection of his photographs were bought to the publics attention with his first publication  Urformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art) in 1928. Later a second book Wundergarten der Natur, (The Wondergarden of Nature) 1932. At the beginning of the books he says, “I have published this second volume–to arouse the Nature-sense, to demonstrate the wealth and beauty of nature, to stimulate observation of our own plant world.”

Aristolochia, birthwort – tendril shoots
Cutleaf teasel – leaves at stem
Manna ash – blossom bud opening
Indian balsam, snapweed, branching
Passion flower – bud
Azorina – blossom (petals removed)
Red elderberry – blossom bud
Hairy catsear – young leaf
 Phacelia congesta, Phacelia, panicle
 Henbane, seed capsule
 Cephalaria, Scabious family, capitulum
Rough horsetail – cross section of stem
Northern maidenhair fern – young rolled up fronds
Rough horsetail – top of shoot

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