Georgia O’Keeffe has long been celebrated for her groundbreaking abstract paintings that allude to nature. Over the course of her long life, photographs have played a powerful role in how she was seen and how we remember her. “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern,” a show at the Brooklyn Museum, focuses on the persona O’Keeffe presented to the world, that of an independent woman artist at a time when few existed. Along with her paintings, the show includes clothes she made for herself, letters she wrote and a selection of images of O’Keeffe, made by several generations of star photographers from Ansel Adams to Annie Leibovitz.
O’Keeffe’s strongest and earliest connection to photography was through Alfred Stieglitz, her partner and husband, who made more than 300 portraits of her over the course of 20 years. He showed her drawings at his influential 291 gallery, and his early photographs of her were instrumental in defining her reputation as an artist—his nudes and studies of her face and hands present O’Keeffe as mysterious, powerful and feminine. After she moved to New Mexico without Stieglitz, she became a subject for photographers including Philippe Halsman, Yousuf Karsh, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber, Todd Webb and others, who photographed her at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, the properties where she lived and worked. In these later photographs, O’Keeffe wears work shirts, robes and wide hats, playing the role of the grande dame of Modernist art, a figure which has become as iconic and recognizable as her paintings of flowers.