Blossfeldt and Surrealism
Karl Blossfeldt of course made his great sequence of plant photographs in Berlin, but my interest in his pictures was filtered through their reproduction in 1929 in Documents, alongside an article by George Bataille: ‘The Language of Flowers’. Hence its placement here under ‘Surrealism in Paris’.
Blossfeldt’s work is one of the most extraordinary examples of how photographs made for a singular purpose can be made to have other meanings quite unconsidered by the photographer. To illustrate this, my essay on ‘Blossfeldt and Surrealism’ also brought in writings and images by Walter Benjamin, Paul Nash, Jindřich Štyrský, Karel Teige, Sherrie Levine, Idris Khan and Joan Fontcuberta.
The essay was published in Photoresearcher, the journal of the European Society for the History of Photography (based in Vienna), no. 11, April 2008. A pdf of the entire issue is available on line from: www.esph.org
It was a nice addendum to the essay when, on a visit to Tate Modern in 2013, I discovered that Eileen Agar used her copy of Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst to press flowers (see picture opposite)! It is a gesture that is both quirky and appropriate and altogether typical of Agar; her particular form of ‘nature surrealism’ is discussed under ‘Surrealism in Britain’.