In the 1920s and 30s, American and European art photography reacted against the self conscious sentimentality of Pictorialism, and an industrial aesthetic that reflected the realities of 20th century life began to become more important. Flower photography was rejected by many photographers as having a 19th century feyness at odds with the modern world.
Edward Weston looked for new subject matter: cabbages, capsicums, deserts, industrially produced toilet bowls – anything except flowers it seemed. Flowers were not thrown out of the modernist vase altogether and there are many memorable examples of modernist images of flowers, such as Karl Blossfeld. Trained as a sculptor, Blossfeld makes flowers look like hard objects, sculpted from steel rather than grown in gardens.
The use of hard light and high contrast draws our attention to the structure of each plant he photographs. Looking at them, we become aware of how they are held up, the strength in the fibres that makes them, as well as the complexity of their forms. They appear to have been engineered.
He only shows us perfect specimens, emblematic of their species. They are rigorous and shown without sentimentality or embelishment. This is an industrial beauty for an industrial age, far, for example, from Jan Breughel’s lavish and sensuous paintings of flowers, though there is a shared a depth of observation and an ability to show this with great clarity.