Intimate Images of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

In January 1916, Alfred Stieglitz was shown a portfolio of charcoal drawings by a young artist named Georgia O’Keeffe. Stieglitz was so taken by her art that without meeting O’Keeffe or even getting her permission to show her works he made plans to exhibit her work at 291 gallery. The first that O’Keeffe heard about any of this was from another friend who saw her drawings in the gallery in late May of that year. She finally met Stieglitz after going to 291 and chastising him for showing her work without her permission.

Soon thereafter O’Keeffe met Paul Strand, and for several months she and Strand exchanged increasingly romantic letters. When Strand told his friend Stieglitz about his new yearning, Stieglitz responded by telling Strand about his own infatuation with O’Keeffe. Gradually Strand’s interest waned, and Stieglitz’s escalated. By the summer of 1917 he and O’Keeffe were writing each other “their most private and complicated thoughts”, and it was clear that something very intense was developing.

The year 1917 marked the end of an era in Stieglitz’s life and the beginning of another. In part because of changing aesthetics, the changing times brought on by the war and because of his growing relationship with O’Keeffe, he no longer had the interest or the resources to continue what he had been doing for the past decade. Within the period of a few months, he disbanded what was left of the Photo-Secession, ceased publishing Camera Work and closed the doors of 291. It was also clear to him that his marriage to his wife, Emmy, was over. He had finally found “his twin”, and nothing would stand in his way of the relationship he had wanted all of his life.

O’Keeffe was the muse Stieglitz had always wanted. He photographed O’Keeffe obsessively between 1918 and 1925 in what was the most prolific period in his entire life. During this period he produced more than 350 mounted prints of O’Keeffe that portrayed a wide range of her character, moods and beauty. He shot many close-up studies of parts of her body, especially her hands either isolated by themselves or near her face or hair. O’Keeffe biographer Roxanna Robinson states that her “personality was crucial to these photographs; it was this, as much as her body, that Stieglitz was recording.”