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There are three distinct strands of flower still life photography - one is the artistic trend of seeing flowers as intrinsically beautiful, the second sees them as a stimulus to design creativity and the third sees them as objects of science.
  1. Intrinsically beautiful
     
    Set piece photographs that are reminiscent of the flower, fruit and vegetable paintings of the Dutch masters Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1684), Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) and were created as ornamental studies.
    • Roger Fenton (1819-1869) better known for his photographs of the Crimean War also took studies of fruit and flowers with sensitivity and astounding detail.
    • Charles Hippolyte Aubry (1811-1877) with his studies of flowers and leaves.
    • Edward Weston (1886-1956) reveled in the sensuous curves of a cabbage leaf and the smooth shapes of strangely contorted bell peppers.
    • Charles Jones piled up vegetables to create patterns in a multitude of shapes.
  2. Design creativity
     
    Creative artists continually seek inspiration and nature provides it in abundance. Adolphe Braun worked in textile design and Karl Blossfeldt in an iron works but both of them saw how the photography of natural forms could inspire artists.
    • Adolphe Braun (ca.1811-1877) produced over 300 studies of flowers to provide thought provoking examples to stimulate artists, graphic designers and textile designers.
    • Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1952) Primarily took his detailed photographs of plants to serve as illustrative examples for designers.
  3. Science
     
    The botanical illustrators such as Georg Dionysius Ehret (German Painter and Illustrator, 1710-1770) or Pierre-Joseph Redoute (Flemish-born French Painter, 1759-1840) completed their work to further scientific analysis and aid comparative classification. Soon after the invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century scientists appreciated its ability to capture a permanent record of botanical samples that could be used as reference works for comparative analysis. The object was not so much to provide an artistic study but rather a facsimile of the plant.
    • The nineteenth century botanist Anna Atkins (1799-1871) used the cyanotype process to create startling blue images of specimens of British algae.
    • Franz de Paula Antoine (1815-1886) worked his way up as a gardener at the Royal Parks of Vienna becoming court gardener in 1841 and director of the court gardens in 1865. He took photographs of plants to illustrate his books and further scientific research.
    In the early scientific still life photographs of plants all surrounding details are irrelevant as they distract from the single object under study.
Early floral arrangements
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Charles Hippolyte Aubry
Gladiolas 
1864 (ca)
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Adolphe Braun
[Flower Study, Rose of Sharon] 
1854 (ca)
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Roger Fenton
Flowers and Fruit 
1860
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John Dillwyn Llewelyn
A Bouquet of Roses 
1853 (ca)
John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810-1882) was a wealthy amateur and photographed the activities of his family and social circle at his estate at Penllergare (Swansea, Wales). He also photographed flowers in their natural settings, botanical specimens and simple flower arrangements.
 
Adolphe Braun (1811-1871) was a French textile designer and had published lithographs before taking up photography. He saw in the 1850s that photographs could be used a means of providing inspiration to artists and designers and took large numbers of flower studies. These became so successful that he changed from a designer into a photographer. There are strong parallels here with Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1952) who would later use plant architecture as a basis for design.
 
Charles Hippolyte Aubry (1811-1877) in the 1860s took albumen prints of flower arrangements but the undoubted early master of flower photography was the British photographer and lawyer Roger Fenton (1819-1869) who in a final flourish produced unsurpassed still lifes with flowers just before he gave up photography in 1862.
 
As a small aside here it is worth examining the still lifes done by the photojournalist Don McCullin as they have interesting comparisons with those of Fenton.
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In Germany Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1952) continued this tradition in his classic book 'Art Forms in Nature' ('Urformen der Kunst' 1928) which examined each plant in exquisite detail - they look as if they have been magically forged from wrought iron.
Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1952)
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Karl Blossfeldt
Centaura Grecesina 12x 
1928
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Karl Blossfeldt
Meadow Clary - Salvia pratensis, 10x 
1932
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Karl Blossfeldt
Chili Nettle, Flower Bud Bursting Open, Cajophora lateritia (Loasaceae), 15x 
1932
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Karl Blossfeldt
Botanical Study [#4] 
1928
Early in his working life the German photographer Karl Blossfeldt worked as a sculptor in iron foundries but he became interested in the relationships between natural forms and decorative art - an endeavor that was supported by the Prussian government. From 1898 he taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin and built up an archive of plant photographs each meticulously detailed and on a plain background to remove any distractions. In 1928 he published "Urformen Der Kunst. Photographische Pflanzenbilder" (Berlin) which has become one of the seminal books in the history of photographic publishing.
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Karl Blossfeldt 
  
Rolf Sachse
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Karl Blossfeldt: Working Collages 
  
Ann Wilde (Editor); & Jurgen Wilde (Editor)
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Karl Blossfeldt: 1865-1932 
  
Hans Christian Adam; & Karl Blossfeldt
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Karl Blossfeldt: The Alphabet of Plants 
  
Karl Blossfeldt; Ann Wilde (Editor); Jurgen Wilde (Editor); Ann Wilde; & Jurgen Wilde
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Contemporary with Karl Blossfeldt in Germany was Ernst Fuhrmann (1886-1958) who also took extraordinary studies of plants and these were published in the 1930 book 'The Plant as a Living Creature' - although there is some question as to whether he took all the photographs. Most photographers have a portfolio that includes some flower pictures but some can take the art of flower photography to extraordinary levels of excellence:
 
Foliage 
  
Harold Feinstein
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One Hundred Flowers 
  
Harold Feinstein
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The Infinite Tulip 
  
Harold Feinstein
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The Infinite Rose 
  
Harold Feinstein
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  • Tom Baril, who had been Robert Mapplethorpe's printer, has produced Botanica which contains hauntingly beautiful fine art images of flowers.
  • Joyce Tenneson in her book 'Flower Portraits: The Life Cycle of Beauty'.
An excellent overview of the finest examples of flower photography is contained in William A. Ewing 'Flora Photografica:Masterpieces of Flower Photography from 1835 to the Present'.
Flower studies
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Tom Baril
3 Poppies #2 
1997
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Ernst Haas
Rote Tulpen, Japan 
1980
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Joyce Tenneson
Passion Flower 
[Intimacy] 
2004
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Robert Mapplethorpe
Rose 
1986
The complexity of flowers and their intrinsic beauty ensures that they are a continual fascination for photographers - indeed many photographers that have established reputations handling other subjects have also explored their sinuous shapes. Tom Baril has done brooding studies of the architecture of New York, Ernst Haas was one of the first to appreciate the importance of color photography and is well known for his motion studies, Joyce Tenneson for her portraits and Robert Mapplethorpe for his studies of the human body in all its diversity.
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Flower photographers
 
Robert Mapplethorpe
Flowers 
  
Robert Mapplethorpe
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Joyce Tenneson
Flower Portraits: The Life Cycle of Beauty 
  
Joyce Tenneson
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Christopher Griffith
Fall: Photographs 
  
Christopher Griffith (Photographer); Walt Whitman (Verse); & Philip A. Rea (Text)
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Thomas Florschuetz
Thomas Florschuetz: Ricochet Blumenstucke 
  
Thomas Florschuetz (Photographer); von Ameluxen (Essay); & Eugen Blume (Essay)
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The seductive beauty of a single plant genera or species frequently draws photographers into an almost religious fervor to take pictures of every example they can find or to find the perfect example of a type. Orchids, lilies, roses, tulips have proven to be particular favorites that have provoked a cataloging zeal.
Collections of flower photography
 
Flora Photografica
Flora Photographica: Masterpieces of Flower Photography from 1835 to the Present 
  
William A. Ewing
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Within the storefront galleries that have good websites look for extraordinary floral works by:
Flower studies - A continuing tradition
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Jack Welpott
Flying Flowers 
2002
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Harold Feinstein
Magnolia, Magnolia cultivar 
1999
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Ron van Dongen
Cryptanthus Zonatus 
n.d.
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Cy DeCosse
Cultured Pearl 
n.d.
The images shown here have been selected for different reasons.
 
The 1999 image by Harold Feinstein of Magnolia, Magnolia cultivar was the one used for the dust jacket of his 2000 book "100 flowers".
 
Jack Warren Welpott has had a varied career with changes of style and techniques doing everything from abstracts to portraits and photojournalism.
 
21ST: Publishers of Fine Art Photography Books, based in South Dennis (MA, USA) has emerged as one of the key recent developments for Fine Art photography and sees itself as a successor to the Camera Work of Alfred Stieglitz. Within its limited edition portfolios and 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography it includes exquisite photogravures including flower studies by Cy Decosse and Ron van Dongen.
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