Tony Cearns reflects on Karl Blossfeldt ahead of the Hayward travelling exhibition at The Brindley on SAT 25 APRIL – SUN 31 MAY 2015 as part of LOOK/15 Liverpool International Festival of Photography. Check The Brindley for exact opening times.
Today, it is difficult to catch the sense of pioneering playfulness that existed in the early days of what we now call Modernism. On visiting the Bauhaus Museum in Berlin last summer, I was struck by the scale of creativity of those years, inspired, I was told, by Friedrich Schiller’s “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”, in which play is the force that makes creativity possible.
But I sense that Karl Blossfeldt, often linked with the Surrealists and with the Bauhaus Movement, was a bit of an outlier. We can agree with the philosopher Walter Benjamin who compared him to Moholy-Nagy and the pioneers of New Objectivity, and ranked his achievements alongside the great observational photographers August Sander and Eugene Atget.
But in Blossfeldt we get “serious, sober and analytical”. I don’t see him propping up the bar at Café Voltaire. To be sure, his work often has a playful quality, an ornamental character similar to Art Nouveau – but this was to satisfy his compulsion for order, symmetry, harmony and form, reminding us of one of his contemporaries, D’Arcy Thompson, who delighted in the geometry of plant forms – Nature acting as the “instructor’ of art and technology”.
Blossfeldt’s book, “Wundergarten der Natur” (Magical Garden of Nature) shows the technical mastery of his photography. Looking through my copy of his complete published photographs, I can’t but be hugely impressed by the precision and “fine art” credentials of his work. For Blossfeldt, “a 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 am really looking forward to seeing these photographs. Quite apart from their beauty, Blossfeldt’s persistence to method and rigour gave a sense of other-worldliness to common place things. For example, he photographed flowers with light from the North. Northern light in our hemisphere has a luminous efficacy /lm/W 48, a colour correlated temperature/K 6500 and its colour rendering index/R is equal to 94. Perfect, no?
Tony Cearns is a writer and photographer based in Liverpool. His views can be read on his blog, “Sideways Eye“. His views may not represent the views held by LOOK/15.