Georgia O’Keeffe carefully cultivated an image of herself as the strong, independent artist who lived an isolated life against New Mexico’s windswept canyons.
Most of the iconic photographs of her reflect the severe persona she was determined to convey: black and white clothing, her hair scraped back from cheekbones as steep as the cliffs surrounding her.
“The Candid Camera,” opening at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on Friday, Nov. 2, aims to shatter that image to reveal a woman who laughed, rafted and sketched with her friends.
That circle of friendship included the great photographers Todd Webb, Ansel Adams and Dan Budnik. The images resemble family snapshots, showing the artist relaxing at home with her dogs, visiting Glen Canyon and rafting with her friends.
“We went through the portraits and tried to weed out the ones most reproduced,” fine arts curator Ariel Plotek said.
O’Keeffe developed her public image with her husband, the New York photographer/impresario Alfred Stieglitz.
“She became quite aware of how her persona and image were being created by her black-and-white dress,” Plotek said. “It shaped the way she portrays herself in daily life.
“This shows another facet.”
Budnik received a magazine commission to photograph O’Keeffe. What began as a professional relationship edged into friendship. The photographer captured the artist nuzzling her chow at Ghost Ranch in 1975. She referred to her pets as “the little people.”
Webb met O’Keeffe when Stieglitz asked him to photograph her for a New York exhibition.
“He visits her in New Mexico and falls in love with the place,” Plotek said. “Some of his are the most intimate. He gets pictures of O’Keeffe in jeans, which almost no one did. He very much belies the image we have of the stern, serious O’Keeffe.”
Webb moved to Santa Fe in 1961 and his friendship with the painter flourished. He captured O’Keeffe sketching in Glen Canyon, cradling a rock and laughing with friends during a river rafting trip. O’Keeffe always stashed drawing materials in her pockets.
The artist joined Ansel Adams in Yosemite, where he served as her guide. The pair had met at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Taos home in 1929.
“He’s crouching and makes O’Keeffe look monumental,” Plotek said. “She looks as monumental as Half Dome.”
Photographers remained a presence in O’Keeffe’s life from the first time Stieglitz photographed her in 1917.
The ultimate New Yorker, he never visited his wife in New Mexico.
“He was hypochondriacal,” Plotek said. “He wouldn’t be more than 50 miles from his doctor.”