Plants, steel, design, and the photos of Karl Blossfeldt


A while back I tossed up some of Callie Shell's photos of Obama, and the post turned out to be one of the more popular here at Neuron Culture. Recently Soulcatcher Studios, the site that is running an expanded version of that slide show, has a portfolio of the lovely, strange, and arresting 1928 master work of photographer Karl Blossfeldt: Urformen der Kunst, or "Art Forms in Nature."

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was a German instructor of sculpture who used his remarkable photographs of plant studies to educate his students about design elements in nature. Self-taught in photography, he devoted himself to the study of nature, photographing nothing but flowers, buds and seed capsules for thirty-five years. He once said, "The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form."

I love these things. They're photos of plants meant to evoke human design; but they look like photos of ironwork meant to evoke nature.


Plate # 26: Cucurbita (magnified 3 times)


Plate 45: Delphinium (6x)

More from the site description:

Blossfeldt's photographs were made with a homemade camera that could magnify the subject up to thirty times its actual size. By doing so he revealed extraordinary details within the natural structure of the plants. In the process he created some of the most innovative photographic work of his time. The simple yet expressive forms captured on film affirmed his boundless artistic and intellectual ability.

Published in 1928 when Blossfeldt was sixty-three and a professor of applied art at the Berliner Kunsthochschule, Urformen der Kunst quickly became an international bestseller and in turn made Blossfeldt famous almost overnight. His contemporaries were enchanted by the abstract shapes and structures in nature that he revealed to the world. In 2001 Urformen der Kunst was included in "The Book of 101 Books" as one of the seminal photographic books of the Twentieth Century.

More at the site, where you can buy prints that, for this sort of thing, seem to me reasonably priced.

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Very interesting stuff. Thanks.

Beautiful and fascinating, David. I am especially intrigued having just watched a Nova earlier this week on Evolution and Intelligent Design, and the Dover School Board decision, and how crucial the "engine" of a flagellum was in the case - indeed in the science itself. Although microscopic and organic, it certainly does look as if it was created by an intelligent being. As do many of these photos - as your comment about ironwork emphasizes - proving yet again that it is human design that echoes nature. Plus, they just look so cool.

"Urformen der Kunst" means something like "Original forms of art". Kunstformen der Natur, Ernst Haeckel's book of lithographs, means "Artforms of Nature"...