Original Forms of Art – Karl Blossfeld


The amazing art of Karl Blossfeldt

I’ve seen his works in wonderful black frames with white passe-partout in art stores and hoped one day to place such beautiful, simple modern works on my own wall. Imagine my surprise to learn these very graphic and  minimalist  black & white photographs were not taken any time in the recent past; these images were photographed anywhere from 75-100 years ago by a German photographer, Karl Blossfeldt.

Karl Blossfeldt was born in Germany in 1865 and from the age of 16 to 18, he worked as an apprentice  caster for an ironworks company. He then studied art at the Royal Arts and Crafts Museum in Berlin. In 1890, he participated in a project by Moritz Meurer in Italy, traveling around the Mediterranean to collect and document plant material as sources for drawing classes. This was where his photography of plants began.


At the time, photography was still relatively new and the trend was for elaborate and fancy backgrounds.


Karl Blossfeldt had a different vision, though, and obviously inspired by the ironworks from the days of his apprenticeship,  mounted the plants in front of plain backgrounds.

Extraneous portions such as buds and roots were often cut back or even completely removed.


Showing them out of contest truly does make it easier to see the beauty of each piece, making them very unique and individual. To me, they feel more like a portrait than a photo of a plant or flower.




He created a home-made camera using a microscope lens to be able to multiply the detail up to 30 times. He then focused on just small portions, perhaps a leaf, a seed pod, a few tendrils, just like our macro photographers of today.


He used soft Northern window lighting from the side which gave his subjects lots of depth and dimension and truly a distinctive sculptural aspect.


You must agree that the simplicity of his images really do make them very classic and elegant.  When photographers say that they are not interested in graphic design, I cringe. Look at these incredible examples of graphic shapes.  See how well-balanced they are. Nature creates balance and those principles are what graphic designers do. They bring beauty and balance to shape. He knew that and with these simple shapes, he created art that I could simply look at over and over and admire what mother nature created.


Through the years, Karl Blossfeldt took literally thousands upon thousands of photographs; always of plants, of flowers, of buds and the like and  always paying reverence to their organic beauty; always as a learning tool for his students.


For many years, Karl lectured about architecture and used these images to inspire his students to use organic shapes found in nature for the ornamentation of buildings and often-times the structure themselves. He believed all forums of art have their beginning in the forms of nature.


Amazed by his work, gallery owner, Charles Nierendorf exhibited his photographs in 1926.

They were an instant hit with both critics and the public. Although he was already 61, Karl Blossfeldt was considered like a rock star because of his innovative work. Because of his extreme close-ups, and unemotional appeal of his works, he was considered a pioneer of the New Objectivity Movement.


In 1928, he put out his first book, Urformen der Kunst (Original Forms of Art) ; which still is a best selling book of photography even today and considered one of the most influential books on photography ever to be published.  Every time you think it’s too late to do something important, remember Karl, whose first book was published when he was 63.  It truly is never too late.


From today’s perspective his work parallels many conceptual approaches to photography from the 1960s until today and surely his work originally inspired by art of antiquity, seems as if it will always appear fresh yet classical.



My flower documents should contribute to restoring the relationship to nature. They should reawaken a sense for nature, point out its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the local plant world.Karl Blossfeldt.

Look at the beauty in this simple seed pod. It is simply breathtaking. the swollen belly, the folds that repeat and the spiky texture. This is all around us if only we take the time to really observe. Photography is all about observing. The pressing of the shutter is only how we can express to others that which we have truly seen.

The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with it primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form. ~Karl Blossfeldt.


We often don’t realize that, we as photographers, both amateur enthusiasts and professionals, walk on the paths that these creative masters of long ago, paved for us.  We don’t have to invent the wheel; they did it for us.  There is an important lesson for us here as we see how we have benefited from them and how we should take the responsibility to be generous as artists and share what we learn with others so that art continues to grow and to enrich all our lives.


Encyclopedia of twentieth-Centry photography, Volume 1 by Lynne Warren

Scans used with permission, courtesy of Masters-of-photography.com (2009)
copyright: estate of Karl Blossfeldt

Creative Commons License
Original Forms of Art – Karl Blossfeldt by Maggie Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

© Shuttertactics.com 2013


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