Urformen der Kunst
From The Photobook: A History, vol 1., by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger
“Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (translated not quite literally, in the English edition of 1929 as Art Forms in Nature) is one of the most striking books in photographic history, as well as one of the most popular, running into numerous editions over the decades. It was a key model for the ‘typologies’ school of contemporary German photography, but Blossfeldt’s photobook masterpiece was not a conceptual work of art. It was, like so much German photography of this period, pedagogical in nature, as much founded on the Arts-and-Crafts ethos as Bauhaus principles.
“Beginning in 1900, Blossfeldt – a rare combination of craftsman and art historian – made thousands of photographic enlargements of plant leaves, stems and seed pods in order to reveal the link between the structure of plants and artistic form. … In 1925 his work caught the attention of Karl Nierendorf, a banker and collector of avant-garde art. Nierendorf encouraged Blossfeldt to exhibit his photographs in art exhibitions, and edited the work for this publication, as well as writing the introduction. …
“We might be looking not at plant details but directly at architectural decorative elements – finials, bosses, brackets, parapets, stair rails – carved in wood or cast in metal, in styles that owe far more to the fin de siecle aesthetic movement Art Nouveau than to the stark lines of modernism.
“This … vision is both striking and beguiling. The semi-abstract nature of Blossfeldt’s work ensures its modernist credentials, although in reality his inspiration is much more rooted in the nineteenth-century German tradition of natural philosophy. Nevertheless, however one chooses to label these images, their popularity has remained constant, ever since the book’s first edition. This is one of the few modern photobooks to be bought by art dealers with the intention of breaking it up and selling the individual plates to be framed and hung on a wall.