Walking through the Karl Blossfeldt exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, is quite an ‘interesting’ experience; interesting being the word you use for everything that you’re not quite convinced of but might be slightly open to.
But this is one exhibition that I started walking through as a complete skeptic, only to do a complete 360° turn by the last work. From a ‘why would someone’s plant portraits be worthy of an exhibition’ to an ‘oh my god, these are mind blowing’, in less than fifteen minutes…
With scientific precision and ballerinaesque composition, Blossfeldt’s images make you want to reach into each photograph and touch every leaf and blossom his lens has passed over. The detail and the sheer variety of species covered in his portraits, depict him as a man of obsession and an artist with a strong surrealist bent of mind.
The cameras he used were homemade. And the silver gelatin prints he made not only became useful teaching tools, but they also inspired the Surrealists, were mass produced in magazines and books, and received critical acclaim from the likes of Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille. To me he is now one of those artists you discover quite unexpectedly, while feel slightly silly that you never knew he existed, but who from this day on will have indelibly changed the way you look at the everyday.
Henceforth let no twig, leaf or cowslip blossom, be too small or too insignificant to be worthy of an artists’ glance or a photographers’ eye.
‘If I give someone a horsetail, he will have no difficulty in making a photographic enlargement of it – anyone can do that. But to observe it, to notice and discover its forms is something only few are capable of.’
Karl Blossfeldt, unpublished essay, 1929.
Blossfeldt’s photographs can be best described by Bataille who in the Language of Flowers said –
‘What strikes human eyes determines not only the knowledge of the relations between various objects, but also a given decisive and inexplicable state of mind. Thus the sight of a flower reveals, it is true, the presence of a well-defined part of a plant, but it is impossible to stop at this superficial observation; in fact, the sight of this flower provokes in the mind much more significant reactions, because the flower expresses an obscure vegetal resolution.’
Go see this exhibition if you are seeking inspiration…there are truly no limits to the genius you can find within these images.