Karl Blossfeldt/ Art Forms in Nature
Blossfeldt taught at the school of the Museum of Decorative Art, Berlin in a course specially created for him: “Modeling from Living Plants”. He made thousands of photographs of plants meant to serve as samples for his students.
Ulrike Meyer Stump writes in her preface to the publication of Karl Blossfelds “Working Collages”: “After 1910 the attendance in Blossfeldt´s courses was extremely poor. The 1911/12 records, for example, list only one student in his evening course, and in the late 1920s the young commercial artist are said to have registered for “old Blossfeldt´s “ courses only to recover from more exacting course work.”
Later on: “It was the gallery owner Karl Nierendorf, a champion of new objectivity, who in 1926 effectively discovered Blossfeldts plant photographs for the art world, probably on the occasion of an exhibition in the corridors of the school, showing course work by Blossfeldt and his students.”(…)
“For the publication of his plant photographs in Art Forms in Nature, Blossfeldt created details of details, scrupulously removing all traces of his working methods. In order to extract these art forms from nature, Blossfeld sometimes dissected specimens with the scalpel so radically that they are no longer botanically identifiable. At the later stage, he sometimes retouched undesirable features, removing them from a print. For example the contact print of the horsetail used as the first illustration in “Art Forms in Nature”, as it appears on plate1, still has a small leaf, which Blossfeldt removed for the book.”
Blossfeldt isn’t interested that much in botany but in his concept of art. He believes that in nature there are prototypes of art and tries everything to visualize his idea. This determines his reproduction of reality. To put this differently: reality is, as he wants it to be.
Thomas Ruff has done it likewise with his portraits. He wanted to prove, that it is impossible to visualize the personality of a person. To prove his point he has, so to speak, used a scalpel as Blossfeldt did, to ban all emotion from his portraits. His protagonists actually manage not to show any emotion, they all are in the same age group, hardly showing any signs of wear that life brings along, and the setting is reduced to the minimum, as in Blossfeldt´s images. We therefore are trying to interpret the signs Ruff left us to decipher, and fail, moving into an endless loop of an futile attempt to empathize.
Thus Ruff has proven what he wanted to prove in this strictly controlled experimental set up. The intrinsic quality of his project is that the resistance of his protagonist to be psychologically interpreted brings us to reflect about this automated process of judging the personality of our fellow men based on visual signs.
Rolf Sachse wrote about Blossfeldt’s images (excerpts) :
“He photographed plants by the thousands – 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 rooms be detected. The light for his shots was obtained from northern windows, making it diffuse, but it fell from the side, creating volume. The technique and processing conditions were very simple; only the medium size of the negative format was somewhat out of the ordinary. Nothing detracted from the subject. This man produced such pictures for over thirty years.
“Blossfeldt photographed plants in front of a grey or white background. In doing so, he was drawing inspiration from the pharmaceutical plant catalogues and classification books of the late Middle Ages and the herbaria of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which comparison and classification of the plants shown had only been possible by employing a uniform background. He was thereby also going completely against the contemporary trend with its loathing of empty backgrounds: no room should be empty, no wall devoid of decoration, no newspaper, magazine or book page should be printed without filling every last inch with ornamentation and trimming. Yet publishing his photos as part of the arts and crafts movement of the time was a notion which did not occur to Blossfeldt. For him, they represented nothing more than teaching material.”
Karl Blossfeldt´s reduced and abstracted images of plants haven’t lost any of their actuality. They seem to be timeless.