10 Amazing Karl Blossfeldt Photographs

Do you know how he made his magnified images of plants?

By Google Arts & Culture

Allium ostrovskianum. Flower of a garlic plant, enlarged 6X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Allium ostrovskianum. Flower of a garlic plant, enlarged 6X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Karl Blossfeldt, born in the German town of Schielo, living between 1865-1932, never trained as a photographer, but he became known for making amazing magnified images of plants that influenced artists and designers of the early twentieth century.

Acanthus mollis. Acanthus. The flowers are separated, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Acanthus mollis. Acanthus. The flowers are separated, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Blossfeldt began his artistic career as a sculptor, completing an apprenticeship at an ironworks in the village of Mägdesprung, before studying drawing at the school of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin. Following his graduation, he worked with the designer Moritz Meurer.

Cucurbita. Pumpkin tendril, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Cucurbita. Pumpkin tendril, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Blossfeldt travelled with Meurer around the Mediterranean, collecting botanical samples to build an archive of natural forms. Despite the fact that Blossfeldt had no formal photographic training and used homemade cameras, he captured stunningly detailed images.

Dipsacus laciniatus. Thistle. Dried leaves on stalk, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Dipsacus laciniatus. Thistle. Dried leaves on stalk, enlarged 4X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In 1898, Blossfeldt returned to the Museum of Applied Arts and found work as a lecturer. It was here, over the next three decades, that he used his  his enormous botanical photo archive as teaching aids, and it was during this time that his eye for abstraction was discovered.

Aristolochia specialis. Osterluzei. Young tendril shoot, enlarged 8X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Aristolochia specialis. Osterluzei. Young tendril shoot, enlarged 8X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The early decades of the twentieth century saw dozens of aesthetic movements spring up, flourish, and die. Many of these movements saw something of themselves in Blossfeldt's photographs. He was touted as a modernist visionary and an avant garde artist.

Blumenbachia hieronymi. Closed seed capsule, enlarged 18X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Blumenbachia hieronymi. Closed seed capsule, enlarged 18X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Blossfeldt was associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, movement. These artists, including George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann, sought to depict society with precision, as if seen through a clear lens - much like Blossfeldt's own photographs.

Papaver orientale. Oriental poppy. Seed bud, enlarged 5X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Papaver orientale. Oriental poppy. Seed bud, enlarged 5X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In 1926, the gallerist Karl Nierendorf mounted an exhibition of Blossfeldt's photographs, paired with African sculptures, at his Neumann-Nierendorf Gallery. Two years later, he published a monograph of Blossfedlt's work, titled Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature).

Seseli gummiferum. Sesel. Enlarged 10x. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Seseli gummiferum. Sesel. Enlarged 10x. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In 1929, at the age of 63, his work was featured in two highly significant exhibitions, Fotografie der Gegenwart and Film und Foto, placing his plants alongside photographs by Alexander Rodchenko, Edward Weston, and Florence Henri. Walter Benjamin later praised this work.

Blumenbachia hieronymi. Opened seed capsule, enlarged 8X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Blumenbachia hieronymi. Opened seed capsule, enlarged 8X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

That same year, he was brought to the attention of Surrealist artists, through his inclusion in Documents magazine by editor George Batailles. For the Surrealists, the abstracted images of flowers spoke to something deeply sexual in the human psyche.

Papaver orientale. Oriental poppy. Flower bud, enlarged 5X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien Papaver orientale. Oriental poppy. Flower bud, enlarged 5X. from the portfolio 12 Fotografien (1920s) by Karl BlossfeldtThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Even today, Blossfeldt's stark, sharp, and detailed images appear disturbing. His desire to probe the non-human world puts him at odds with portraitists and paparazzi. Even today, 100 years later, there's still a lot to learn from looking at Karl Blossfeldt's photographs.

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