Karl Blossfeldt at the Whitechapel Gallery

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The Whitechapel Gallery presents a major exhibition of Karl Blossfeldt’s historic photographs and publications. Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was a pioneering German photographer who came to prominence in the 1920s. A trained sculptor, draughtsman and teacher, he created exquisitely beautiful, close-up photographs of plants.

Celebrated internationally for his significant contribution to the field of art and nature, Blossfeldt is regarded as one of the defining photographers of the twentieth century. He was committed to the study of form within nature and dedicated 35 years to exclusively photographing botanical subject matter. Developing a series of homemade cameras that allowed him to photograph plant surfaces in magnified detail, his stark, objective approach emphasised the detailed beauty of nature.

The exhibition includes over 80 original photographic prints made by Blossfeldt from the late 19th century until the end of his life alongside key archive material showing Blossfeldt’s significant influence, from Georges Bataille to László Moholy-Nagy. Also presented are original copies of his widely distributed publications Urformen der Kunst (1928) and Wundergarten der Natur (1932), as well as a selection of unique Working Collages and five rarely-seen, large-scale prints loaned from the Karl Blossfeldt Archiv / Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München.

Working at a pivotal moment between Art Nouveau and Modernism, Blossfeldt’s work became one of the major influences in early 20th century modernist art. Praised by Walter Benjamin, adopted by the Surrealists and mass produced in magazines, his photographs formed a catalogue of patterns that reflect architectural and artistic designs throughout the ages. His work captured the spirit of New Objectivity, a cultural movement developed as a critical reaction to Expressionism that asserted a factual, direct approach to a subject.

Blossfeldt spent his life as a teacher and was a Professor of Arts in Berlin from 1898-1930. The exhibition includes his photographs which were used as reference tools in his ‘Modelling from Live Plants’ class, on loan from the University of the Arts, Berlin together with Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur. The prints were frequently handled by Blossfeldt’s students and often inscribed with annotations by the artist.

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