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Book Review: Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams – Natural Affinities by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

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Georgia O'Keeffe was an American artist born in Wisconsin in 1887. From the late 1920s, she spent much of her time in the desert southwest, particularly in New Mexico, where, through her paintings, she became one of the most celebrated women artists of the 20th century. Much of her work consisted of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones, and landscapes.

Ansel Adams was an American photographer born in 1902 in San Francisco. Best known for his signature black-and-white photographs that helped inspire an appreciation for natural beauty and a strong conservation ethic, he also developed the zone system of photography, allowing him to present a depth and clarity in his images that changed photography forever.

In 1929, when Adams and O'Keeffe were in Taos, New Mexico, they met and formed what would be a lifelong friendship. They were connected through Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz was one of America's first advocates of modern art and worked to make photography recognized as an art form. He was Adams' mentor and friend, as well as O'Keeffe's husband.

Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities is an attempt to explore the significance of these two artists' achievements and examine the way each chose to capture the world around them. This is not just a picture book. Natural Affinities also contains three essays that explore O'Keeffe and Adams as well as their connection with Stieglitz.

The first, "Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Subjects of Self," by Barbara Buhler Lynes, curator of the Georgia O' Keeffe Museum, is a critical essay that focuses on how the two viewed themselves from the perspective of their biographies, how they looked at their successes, as well as how they related their achievements to those around them.

"Northeast by Southwest: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and New Mexico," by Richard B. Woodward, focuses on the relationship between the three. By the 1980s, O'Keeffe and Adams had settled into the artistic roles that everyone revered, but in enduring over fifty years of friendship they encountered a number of bumps in the road. Their personalities were different in as one treasured privacy and the other welcomed the adulation of fame, but they each had their artwork. This essay explores how the three, who came from three generations – Stieglitz born in 1864, O' Keeffe in 1887, and Adams in 1902 – transformed the American art form.

The final essay, "What Adams Saw: Ansel Adams and Modern Art in America," by Sandra S. Phillips, curator of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, looks at how Adams viewed the modern art movement. It was the galleries of Stieglitz in New York that first inspired Adams to open a gallery in San Francisco in 1933. This essay examines how Ansel Adams moved from a total Modernist to someone who also embraced other artistic directions.

Natural Affinities also contains images. More than 100 paintings and photographs are reproduced in four-color plates and tritone photographs and included in this book. They correspond to exhibitions held in Santa Fe, New Mexico and subsequently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Norton Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Georgia O'Keeffe And Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities excels in tying these two leaders of the modern art movement in America together to compare and contrast their work. It is further enhanced by the inclusion of the essays, one biographical and two critical. The quality of the book is very good. Some of the photos are not as crisp and clear as I would expect, but are still immensely enjoyable all the same. More important is the concept of the book as a critical analysis and comparison and as a visual art book. I think it works on all levels and I highly recommend it.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.