Karl Blossfeldt was a photographer and professor at the Royal School of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin. Karl Blossfeldt’s training began with the study of industrial arts and design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin. In 1890, along with five other students, Blossfeldt received a scholarship to work in Rome with one of the instructors, Mortiz Meurer. Meurer assigned him the job of casting models of botanical specimens, ultimately to be used by industrial craftsmen and manufacturers. In addition, the group photographed plants based on a method developed by Meurer. Blossfeldt acquired a keen interest and special talent in this task and continued to photograph plants for the remainder of his career.
Blossfeldt spent a large portion of his life studying plant forms, believing that the structural qualities found in nature could be translated and applied to the fields of sculpture, engineering and architecture. Blossfledt dedicated his entire career to photographing plants, demonstrating the graphic and aesthetic possibilities of organic structures as a means to realise this hypothesis. Whilst his motivations were primarily academic, Blossfeldt produced a series of photographs which went far beyond the descriptive, and instead tapped into the artistic, political and intellectual climate of Europe at the time. Blossfeldt’s project, which he initiated during the 1890s, far predated German photographic modernism, making him a key voice in the development of modern photography in the West.
In his latter years of teaching, that Blossfeldt worked with the publisher, Ernst Wasmuth, to put together a book of his photographs; ‘Urformen Der Kunst’, (Archetypal forms in Nature), which was published in 1928. The photographs in this exhibition were reproduced using a method of printing called photogravure – an intaglio printmaking process whereby a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue which had been exposed to a film positive, and then etched, resulting in a high quality print that can reproduce the detail and continuous tones of a traditional photograph. At the time, this was the finest photomechanical means of reproducing a photograph in large editions. A descendent from the printmaking process of etching, photogravures utilize a copper plate. The result provides an almost velvety appearance to the image.