O’ Keeffe as captured by Stieglitz

text: Taka Kawachi

Autumn/2014

Alfred Stieglitz is regarded by many as the “The father of Modern Photography”. He is is also known as the husband of famed artist Georgia O’ Keeffe. Not only as a photographer but also as an editor and art gallery owner, he laid down the roots of a new style of photography in America and beyond. He was a towering figure who greatly contributed to the development of photography as an art form. Stieglitz’s collection of portraits of Georgia O’ Keeffe whom he continuously took photographs of was published in the beautiful collection ‘Georgia O’ Keeffe: A Portrait’ in 1978.

It is not just about the 79 carefully selected shots of Georgia O’ Keeffe that had been taken over a period of thirty years from 1917, compiled and arranged in chronological order, but the binding and printing makes this a handsomely made exquisite work of art that has long enchanted fans of photography.

Also, Georgia O’ Keeffe commented on the images like the one below at the time the collection was published. Looking back on being the subject of his work, she frankly discussed the poses of Stieglitz’s portraits from her standpoint.

Alfred Stieglitz was married to Georgia O’Keeffe, who was 23 years his junior. Together with standard portraits within the photo collection are a great number of photographs of hands and fingertips which became known as “hand portraits”.

“The first time Steiglitz photographed me was at his gallery ‘291’ in the spring of 1917. Though Alfred had rather praised my hands since I was a child, I was not that aware of it. He had taken different poses of me with my face, hands and wrist on a pillow. At times, he varied the position of my hands or face, as he moved my body here and there….. It seemed his aim was to get a sharp point of view.”

As if Georgia O’Keeffe is touching the images, it could be said the persistent appearances of O’Keeffe’s hands and wrists make this collection more than just mere images of “portraits of faces and hands” The contrast between O’Keeffe’s boyish looks with her fine and delicate white hands are seductively expressed in various ways.

‘GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: A PORTRAIT’ was originally published as the catalog to an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Art Museum in 1978. While her beauty is obvious, the photographs are handsome like a work of art.

Moreover, there is a narrative from a mature nude appearance to the philosophic sense of a handsome priest-like face at the end. It is composed to make one strongly feel the way O’Keeffe has lived with the turning of each page.

Georgia O’Keeffe continues. “Nowadays, when I look at the way the photographs were taken, I don’t recognize the person in them as though it was me. And though it is of one life, it seems that a number of lives had been lived. Maybe Alfred was not thinking of it as just a simple portrait. Perhaps his vision was to start as a baby, and to continuously capture the growth to adulthood and beyond. I believe in the end it is like a diary chronicling life according to him.”

Acclaimed as Alfred Stieglitz’s masterpiece, this photographic collection was crucially filled with an insight beyond simple portraits. It could perhaps be said that all things considered, the work is a universal exploration brimming with “love” towards his talented wife and curiosity towards photography.

Taka Kawachi

Studied at San Francisco Art College after high school, moved to New York and curated exhibitions and edited photography collections. He returned to Japan in 2011. He has recently published two books with writings about art and photography in Europe and America (not yet available in English).

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