MUSES: Georgia O'Keeffe


Those who photographed Georgia O’Keeffe had a certain way of turning their lens. After Steiglitz and before Todd Webb many failed to capture key aspects of her character -- gentleness, humor, femininity -- instead her stoic seriousness always got the limelight.  This severity of expression she is known for cannot be accurate, as I am hard-pressed to believe that Georgia was the type of gal who never had any fun. She may have been a self-made loner -- always aloof, collected, and cool -- but her visceral connection to the land she adored belies a churning inner intensity and passion I  highly admire. What she owned and had; a simple house, a few good chairs, a couple outfits in all black and white which were totally interchangeable, a Ford Truck.  No husband -- just her work and maybe a studio companion from time to time.

Perhaps her minimalism seemed oppressive to others -- a self-imposed denial of aesthetic pleasures and modern comforts. But adornment and addition for their own sake are what seemed oppressive to O’Keeffe. She was a master editor - lover of the barren, raw, wild, and wind-swept. Keeper of all things callous, coarse, fibrous, and unfinished. To separate the wheat from the chaff -- this is where she excelled. Great work is marked by simplicity.

Spending her days at Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe explored Northern New Mexico in her black Ford Model A -- driving to the Plaza Blanca Cliffs, the Badlands near Abiqui, and the Cerro Padernal. These dramatic cliffs and clefts -- in addition to her assembled skulls, driftwood, and desert flora -- were the subjects to which her prolific brush and incredible eye eeked out depth and beauty.

 I like imagining the items she packed and brought along with her on those long desert days, and her little arms holding on to both her easel and her black hat when the wind blew. I like thinking of her taking a nap underneath her car when the  sun was too strong to work, and I especially like imagining the many quiet mornings she must have spent on her own at Ghost Ranch. A lesson in what one needs, what one doesn't and the infinite pleasures the world offers up to you when you're alone, lost in the expanse of your own creativity.