Women have often been described as muses, inspirational figures whose aura and/or beauty and/or power inspire male artists to produce works of art. Think of Kiki of Montparnasse (also known as Alice Ernestine Prin) who, early in 20th century Paris, charmed artists including Modigiliani, Alexander Calder, and Man Ray; and sat for portraits by photographers, including Andre Kertesz. A French country girl turned model/singer/actress/artist, she was, according to Billy Kluver and Julie Martin biography, Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930, one of the early 20th century’s truly independent women. Around the same time and back in the United States, another young woman, Georgia O’Keeffe, was also described in similar terms—a muse who riveted an artist’s attention (in her case, photographer Alfred Stieglitz) and became, on her own, a trailblazing talent and a larger-than-life public figure. Photography helped O’Keeffe to shape her own life-path, celebrity and legacy, too. Her shrewd understanding of how photographic images of her would be useful to focus attention on the images she made as a painter are fascinating to consider, particularly from our vantage point in what’s often described as a celebrity- crazed, reality-TV addicted world.
In a wonderful piece Barbara Buhl Lynes, curator at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, wrote for click! photography changes everything, she explains that while Stieglitz’s photographs of O’Keeffe in the late teens and 1920s may have triggered a sensation, it was how O’Keeffe herself went on the exploit the power of photography to her own ends that is, particularly in National Women’s Month, the more interesting part of the story. You can read more about the story of O’Keeffe’s success in determining and controlling her own destiny, as well as our image of her.
Footage of the 92 year old Georgia O'Keeffe taken in and around her home in New Mexico.