Georgia O’Keeffe Was an Accomplished Photographer, Too. A New Exhibition Focuses on Her Work in the Medium for the First Time

Dec 23, 2021

Georgia O’Keeffe was surrounded by photography for most of her life, and yet her own efforts in the medium have largely gone unstudied.

But now, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is debuting “Georgia O’Keeffe, Photographer,” the first exhibition devoted to the pioneering modernist’s photographic work. Nearly 100 pictures make up the show, most black and white and all culled from a recently rediscovered archive.

Though she was a casual camera lover in her early decades, O’Keeffe’s marriage to photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz in 1924 found her immersed in the medium like never before. She posed in hundreds of Stieglitz’s portraits, helped make and mount his prints, and even assisted in the design of his shows.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1940s, after the death of her husband, that O’Keeffe began seriously making photographs of her own. Studying with photographer Todd Webb, she found herself turning a lens toward her surroundings in northern New Mexico—often capturing chemically the same subjects she painted years before.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Forbidding Canyon, Glen Canyon (September 1964). © Georgia O’KeeffeMuseum.

It’s not hard to tell that O’Keeffe was the eye behind the images—and not just because the majority of them feature the same beloved New Mexican landscapes and flora that populate her paintings. Her signature sense of composition is there, too. You can recognize it in the way she photographs the bodily curves of riverbeds and adobe homes, or in her fascination with the long, graphic shadows that dramatize the desert every morning and afternoon. Her ability to capture nature’s feminine grace remains unparalleled.

After the show’s run in Texas, it will head to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts. There, when the exhibition opens in February of next year, it will do so alongside two other presentations meant to contextualize O’Keeffe’s photographs: “Arthur Wesley Dow: Nearest to the Divine,” which brings together the work of O’Keeffe’s influential mentor in New York; and “’What Next?’: Camera Work and 291 Magazine,” a collection of images from two seminal photography journals compiled to offer a snapshot of the artistic scene surrounding her and Stieglitz.

See more examples of O’Keeffe’s photography below.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Big Sage (Artemisia tridentata) (1957). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ladder against Wall (1961). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Waiʻanapanapa Black Sand Beach (March 1939). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Road from Abiquiú (1959–66). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Garage Vigas and Studio Door (July 1956). © 2022 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Chama River (1957–63). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ladder against Studio Wall in Snow (1959–60). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Skull, Ghost Ranch (1961–72). © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.