Karl Blossfeldt’s early 20th century photographs straddle the worlds of science and art. His images feature plant forms photographed against neutral backgrounds. As a series, this group of images reveals the symmetries, patterns and aberrances of plant growth – the similarities and differences across a type.
Like Blossfeldt, the mid-century artists, Bernd and Hilla Becher, also explored the differences among similar subjects by photographing many iterations of a single type in a neutral environment. Unlike Blossfeldt who was interested in the natural world, the Bechers favored industrial structures. The Bechers coined the term typology to describe this unique way of making pictures.
All three artists, Blossfeldt and the Bechers, used an almost scientific protocol to discover their subjects anew. Like scientists, they worked to limit the variables of lighting, background and composition so that they could study a single variable – form. And, like the best scientists, they were often surprised by what their art revealed.
Being open to discovery and surprise, in art, in science and in life, is a powerful tool for students and adults alike. Older high school students engaged with this lesson will take a second look at the world around them and discover new elements in types that had previously seemed simple or boring. Students will learn that art can be as much a tool for exploration as it is for expression.