Born in Schielo, Harz Mountains on June 13, 1865, Karl Blossfeldt enjoyed a blissful childhood in the German countryside. He began drawing plants and animals at an early age. He received an artistic education and served an apprenticeship at an ironworks foundry in Magdesprung between 1881 and 1883. He also attended the Berlin School of Arts and Crafts and studied under botanical painter Moritz Meurer. Under Mr. Meurer's tutelage, he began photographing various plants and casting models of botanical samples.
After receiving a Prussian Ministry of Trade grant to work in Rome collecting natural specimens that would be used to supplement German industry, Mr. Meurer assembled a group of students that included Mr. Blossfeldt for the six-year sojourn. The thousands of plants collected were treated as artistic pieces, much like architectural buildings. Mr. Blossfeldt discovered that simplicity was best when photographic plants. He observed, "Since only simple forms lend themselves to graphic representation, I cannot make use of lush flowers." The plant shoots were removed from their stems, trimmed, placed upon a support with a nondescript background (such as white cardboard), magnified at nearly 30 times its size, and then an exposure was made. A book featuring two of Blossfeldt's photographs of the acanthus plant and its impact upon ancient art was published in 1896. Mr. Meurer went back to Berlin shortly thereafter while Karl Blossfeldt remained behind in Italy to contemplate his future.
Deciding to return to his German homeland, Mr. Blossfeldt became a plant modeling teaching assistant at the Kunstgewerbeschule, and in 1899, was promoted to lecturer. He educated his students on producing industrial designs by studying nature. The camera became an important instructional tool, as did Mr. Blossfeldt's botanical photographs. In 1925, a Berlin art dealer named Karl Nierendorf noticed his earlier botanical photographs, which closely mirrored the avant garde movement that was popular at the time. He asked Mr. Blossfeldt to print more photographs, all of which were exhibted in Mr. Nierendorf's gallery and subsequently published in a 1926 volume entitled, Urformen der Kunst (Basic Forms of Art). Mr. Blossfeldt's photographs made an immediate impression, and were considered representative of a fledgling movement dubbed "New Objectivity", which celebrated the artistry of nature and ordinary objects.
Retiring from teaching in the fall of 1930, Mr. Blossfeldt focused upon his immense plant photograph collection. In 1932, his second photographic volume, Wundergarten der Natur (Nature's Wonderful Garden) was published. Sixty-seven-year-old Karl Blossfeldt died in Berlin on December 3, 1932. His botanical photographs are still being displayed in exhibitions throughout the world.
1996 A Concise History of Photography, 3rd Ed. (Toronto, Ontario: General Publishing Company, Ltd.), p. 93.
2006 Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 138-140.
2005 Photography (New York: DK Publishing, Inc.), p. 31.
Photo from Wikipedia commons published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.
Return to Previous Page
Return to the History Librarium
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera