When Alfred Stieglitz met Georgia O’Keeffe in 1916, he was an internationally renowned photographer with his own gallery in Manhattan. She was 28 — 25 years his junior — and virtually unknown as a schoolteacher in Texas.
As he began falling for her, Stieglitz became O’Keeffe’s guide and mentor, exhibiting her work in his gallery. A June 1917 letter, published in the book My Faraway One, reads: “How I wanted to photograph you — the hands — the mouth — & eyes — & the enveloped in black body — the touch of white — & the throat — but I didn’t want to break into your time — “
Eventually, he did. A selection of Stieglitz’s portraits of his lover-turned-wife are on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, part of its recently opened exhibit “Alfred Stieglitz and Modern America.” They are at once intimate and haunting, slices of time shaped by the passion, tension, and deep-seated respect that characterized the 30-year relationship between two visionaries. The photographer captures beauty in details — in O’Keeffe’s hands cradling a horse skull, or in her piercing gaze. The portrait series is accompanied by Stieglitz’s photos of New York’s urban geometry and shots from his family’s country home at Lake George, where he spent summers with O’Keeffe capturing clouds and watching her paint.
They quarreled and penned rambling letters, grasping for individuality while remaining romantically entwined. Yet their respect for one another — as people and as artists — never dwindled; they remained married until Stieglitz’s death in 1946.
In July 1929, O’Keeffe wrote to him: “I have not wanted to be anything but kind to you — but there is nothing to be kind to you if I cannot be me — And me is something that reaches very far out into the world and all around — and kisses you — a very warm — cool — loving — kiss — ”
“Alfred Stieglitz and Modern America” is on view until November 5 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.