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Book of the Month


Tulips, of course! That may well be the first thought that springs to mind when considering a publication by the Dutch plant photographer. The unusual pictures are, however, quite a revelation. Leendert Blok (1895–1986) experimented with colour photography early on, filling up the paper with his close-up pictures of flowers. He began documenting flowers being cultivated at the nurseries in Lisse, the Netherlands, almost one hundred years ago; and the floral beauties that posed for his camera were not just tulips, but daffodils, dahlias, hyacinths, irises, gladiolas and other flowers as well. Consequently, Blok’s series were also a presentation of the work of the growers at the time, who were always developing new types and specialized shapes, expanding nature with even more stunning flowers.

Without a doubt, Blok was aware of the work begun around 1900 by the German photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932), documenting plants for study purposes, so that by the 1920s he was celebrated as one of the representatives of new realism photography. In a style similar to Blossfeldt’s, Blok lit every blossom perfectly, setting them in front of a neutral background and giving each the appearance of an individual sculpture. However, Blok’s use of the auxochrom process presented by the Lumière brothers in Paris in 1907, expanded the genre considerably through the use of colour.

The photo book confirms Blok as a pioneer of colour photography in the Netherlands in the 1920s. His first photographic experiences were thanks to his uncle, an enthusiastic amateur photographer; but he went on to study journalism in Pretoria, South Africa, before opening his “Photo Technical Office” studio in his home town of Lisse. His main clients were gardening businesses and bulb developers from neighbouring Haarlem and Sassenheim, who commissioned pictures from him for their catalogues. It was for this purpose that he refined his own personal way of taking colour photographs. For many long years, Blok’s body of work was forgotten, until the Dutch photography historian Frido Troost (1960–2013) rediscovered it; it is now part of the Spaarnestad Photo Foundation in The Hague. After its first publication in France last year (Leendert Blok: Les extravagantes. Photographs Editions Xavier Barral), the English and German versions are now being published by Hatje Cantz. Without a doubt, the book is a bibliophile collector’s item for more than just flower and photography lovers!

Ulrich Rüter

Leendert Blok:
Silent Beauties. Photographs from the 1920s
Hatje Cantz, 2015.
176 pages
80 pictures
19.8 x 26.5 cm

Blok was not a botanist who wanted to reproduce a flower or plant's whole vegetative system, but rather a portraitist who wanted to present each blossom as an individual, or in a composition as part of a group
The pictures taken by the Dutch photographer were supposed to be used in catalogues, but with the passing of time they have become a unique and fascinating compendium of plants
Blok's pictures revel in subtle shades of colour, sensitive moods and tender nuances, which are beautifully conveyed in this book thanks to the perfect prints on matt paper
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