by Karl Blossfeldt

Art Forms in the Plant World


“At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.” –Fyodor Dostoevsky

Ok, I’ll take it down a notch. But what better way to begin thinking of these beautiful close-up photographs of plants! In 1928 Karl Blossfeldt revealed these chlorophyll-filled beauties in unprecedented magnified detail. His German published book Urformen der Kunst was reprinted in New York in 1929 as Art Forms in Nature and then again in 1985 by Dover under the title Art Forms in the Plant World  Although never formally trained as a photographer, Karl built his own special cameras that magnified these plants up to 27 times their actual size. A technological marvel at the time, these images revealed to his contemporaries the abstract and structural nature of these organisms.


Karl’s direct lighting and straight-on compositions give these plants the quality of being both gigantic and microscopic. Is it a skyscraper or inside the nucleus of a cell? The black-and-white also helps to remove our immediate association with plants. What becomes more clear as you flip through these pages is how much they look like other things.  Recognize this?


It’s the common dandelion, but it could be an art deco lamp post or the fuselage of a rocket. The ornate complexity of the rococo, the heroic human gestures of the renaissance,  the expressive movement of modernism are all shown in eerie familiarity.




And it’s not just the designs of our buildings or works of art that are here. I can’t help seeing little people everywhere! Groups of faces, the yawing before bed, a hypnotic dance. It becomes more and more clear that throughout time we have been inspired by the natural world.  Even as we build increasingly complex technology, it continues to resemble our green counterparts, and I’m not talking about aliens (although aliens often look like plants too).




The book is a wonderful visual reference for natural forms and as inspiration for structure and complexity. This Dover version has a few issues with some of the photographs. There are a couple of images with too much contrast where many of the mid-tones are destroyed, and some of the photographs are slightly blurry. Although, I’m not sure if this is due to Karl’s photo setup or Dover’s reproduction quality. Either way these are minor gripes, as most of these images are beautifully detailed and inspiring.