ALFRED STIEGLITZ AND GEORGIA O’KEEFE
Partners in Life and Art
By Bill Dobbins
Alfred Stieglitz is one of the most iconic figure in the history of photography, instrumental in working to have photography recognized as a legitimate art and ardent supporter of both photographers and painters. In his own work, he began as a pictorialist – that is, creating soft images intended to look a lot like paintings. He later recognized the importance of a more realistic approach to make photos, that is taking advantage of the ability of photography to record things as they are, without any attempt to make them look “artsy.”
Wikipedia on Stiglitz:
Stieglitz considered himself an artist, but he refused to sell his photographs. His father purchased a small photography business for him so that he could earn a living in his chosen profession. Because he demanded high quality images and paid his employee high wages, the Photochrome Engraving Company rarely made a profit. He regularly wrote for The American Amateur Photographermagazine. He won awards for his photographs at exhibitions, including the joint exhibition of the Boston Camera Club, Photographic Society of Philadelphia and the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York.
In late 1892, Stieglitz bought his first hand-held camera, a Folmer and Schwing 4×5 plate film camera, which he used to take two of his best known images, Winter, Fifth Avenue and The Terminal. Prior to that he used an 8×10 plate film camera that required a tripod.
Stieglitz gained a reputation for his photography and his magazine articles about how photography is a form of art. In the spring of 1893, he became co-editor of The American Amateur Photographer. In order to avoid the appearance of bias in his opinions and because Photochrome was now printing the photogravures for the magazine, Stieglitz refused to draw a salary. He wrote most of the articles and reviews in the magazine, and was known for both his technical and his critical content.
Georgia O’Keefe was a school teacher and painter working in Virginia, South Carolina and Texas. She traveled to New York and showed her work to Stieglitz, who promoted painters as well as photographers. They developed a relationship and she moved to New York Cilty in 1918.
Wikipedia reports: They developed a professional relationship and a personal relationship that led to their marriage in 1924. O’Keeffe created many forms of abstract art, including close-ups of flowers, such as the Red Canna paintings, that many found to represent female genitalia, although O’Keeffe consistently denied that intention. The reputation of the portrayal of women’s sexuality was also fueled by explicit and sensuous photographs that Stieglitz had taken and exhibited of O’Keeffe.
Stieglitz began shooting an extensive portfolio of photos of O’Keefe, many of them nude, very mild by today’s standards but fairly controversial at the time. These images represent the work of a photographer but also a man in love. Unfortunately, this is not the right place to publish the nudes of Georgia O’Keefe, however innocent they are, but the photos Stiglitz did of Georgia are important historical documents when it comes to understanding the careers of both.
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