Exploring the quietly menacing effect, unremarkable plants as storytelling elements were collected and staged against the backdrop of common urban environments.
“By manipulating the optical and staging properties of photography with an analogue machine that I have constructed, I have produced these studio based images in camera rather using Photoshop compositing. They rely exclusively on the singular perspective of the camera to render their mechanics invisible.”
Daniel Shipp – Botanical Inquiry
Watch this short video to look into the process of making ‘Botanical Inquiry’ series.
“Small plants that exist by our side and we hardly take notice of also contain within themselves the majestic nature, and revolve their life force just the same. They are filled with a variety of expressions and dynamism that cannot be seen with the naked eye, and allow you to sense the mystery of the formation of life.”
Obviously he had adopted the Meurer’s conception and was inspired by the artistic structure and architectural elegance of the plants. He was intrigued with every component of the plant – flowers, buds, seed capsules, roots, tendrils, pods, twigs.
“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,” he said.
But reviewing the diverse art movements at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the use of botanical motifs was not something innovative. Actually they were very popular, especially in the Art Nouveau designs.
The uniqueness is in the original way he captured them: magnification, sharp focus, balanced arrangement, neutral background, high contrast and diffused lightening with only slightest grey shadows beneath the objects.
With his homemade camera he could reach a magnification up to 30x times of the genuine size; an amplification common for what is called now macro photography. This along with the sharp focus reveal extraordinary details of a plant natural structure and shape and provides a visual access to its beauty and lucidity. The trend in photography that time was for elaborate backgrounds, but Blossfeldt’s compositions distinguished with centered plants against a plain monochromatic ground. The viewer should not have to be destructed in his investigation of the object. Showing the finest features of a plant in an isolated contest emphasize their inwardness and expose the individuality and the character of each of them.
After the success of his 1st book in 1928, Blossfeldt was persuaded by Nierendorf to collect another 120 of his photos and in 1932 was published his 2nd book – Wundergarten der Natur (Magic Garden of Nature), again making a phenomenal impact as the previous one and winning him a recognition as one of the key photographers of the 20th century.
Returning to that student exhibition we started… Through the eyes of the past years what else we could add to ‘captivating, outstanding, breathtaking’ when describing the Blossfeldt’s works? Surely a lot, but only one stands out – ‘classical’. Though almost a century has been passed, these graphic black and white photos continue to excite and impress the public. They remain unique and at the same time modern as if they were created nowadays. And apart of their artistic value, they haven’t lost their main purpose and still could be used as teaching materials. Something that probably for Blossfeldt would be the greatest reward.
Imagine you are an art dealer and as you are viewing a student exhibition, suddenly you face to these photographs…
‘Captivating, outstanding, breathtaking!’ That was probably what Karl Nierendorf, an art dealer and owner of a gallery in Berlin, thought that moment almost a century ago, in 1926. He was so impressed by what he saw, that immediately arranged with the artist who had created them, an exhibition at his own gallery. And two years later, in 1928, a book followed. It was called Unformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art), composed of 120 photos and turned out a bestseller. The book was highly praised both by the art critics and the public and still is considered as one of the most influential books of photography ever.
But who was that artist who all of a sudden amazed the world with his unique vision?
His name is Karl Blossfeldt, a German teacher of art and a self-thought photographer, who that time was going into his 60s. Of course, he did not become a famous overnight but a long professional experience stood behind him. And here is the story …
Karl Blossfeldt was born on the 13th of June 1865, in Schielo, Harz Mountains, in central Germany. In 1881, at the age of 16, until 1884, he was sent as an apprentice to Magdesprung to study the craft in the local ironworks and foundry. Afterwards, until 1890, he studied art at the Kunstgewerbeschule (school of arts and crafts) in Berlin.
And it is from 1890 when his perception about his artistic expression started to form.
That year Blossfeldt was hired by Professor Moritz Meurer (1839-1916) to assist him in assembling a collection of botanical illustrations to be used as teaching materials in guiding the designers in their production of innovative motifs.
Professor Moritz Meurer was a recognized botanist and a decorative artist. His concept was that only through the study of the forms of nature, particularly of the plants, the artist can acquire the understanding of the design. In 1889 the Prussian Board of Trade assigned him a project about the improvement of the technical drawings in the state schools. Because the visual images were an integral part of documenting the diversity of plants, Meurer employed nine different artists to assist him in the production of the illustrations. They travelled within Germany and also to Italy and Greece collecting specimens. One of them was Karl Blossfeldt who photographed the local plants with a camera he had built himself. These photographs were published later in Meurer’s books and were used by the latter for the drawing classes he taught in Rome.
In 1898 Blossfeldt was offered a teaching post as an assistant professor of drawing and modeling at the very same Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin he had graduated. Highly influenced by the Meurer’s vision, Blossfeldt continued to employ it until his retirement in 1930. For all those years he created an impressive archive of plant photographs. These images were made as nothing more than a teaching tool for educating his students about the design elements that could be found in the nature.
On the 9th of December, 1932, Karl Blossfeldt passed away.