Alfred StieglitzGeorgia O’Keefe (1919)

I don’t especially care for Stieglitz.

I mean I recognize his contribution to the advancement of photography as an art form both within the US as well as around the world; yet his work–although frequently very beautiful–feels not flat, but affectless in a way that comes across as contrived. (It’s like he spent way too long reading Thoreau in his teens and latched on to the pretentious naturalism more than the admonishment to ‘live purposefully’.

His work with O’Keefe is a little different. Or, the better way to say it might be: what I don’t like about his work actually serves the work instead of undercutting it.

Take the image above: there are similarities in her pose to depictions of Eve in oil paintings throughout the western canon; a ruse meant to preemptively short circuit Puritanical objections to the more sensual facets of the composition. (Eve for example is unlikely to be depicted hold her breast in such an ambiguous fashion, but even that can be traced back to something in-line with the asp biting Cleopatra’s breast.)

I don’t think there’s any way you can wrap your head fully around the Steiglitz and O’Keefe collaborations without acknowledging that they were ravenous with carnal desire for one another.

I know the prevailing wisdom is that an artist should remain aloof and not become entangled with their subjects. But I don’t think you can deny that when a photographer is consensually involved with their subject, it absolutely complicates the work–usually in interesting and unpredictable ways. (Thinking here of Corwin Prescott and Nicole Vaunt as another sterling example.)

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