I once had a photography instructor at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in NYC tell our class…learn from the masters…when you study the work of a master you’ll see patterns, a distinct style…it’ll help in discovering your own style. I picked Alfred Stieglitz because he was determined to prove throughout his career that photography was a medium as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. I also picked him because he promoted modern art at a time (the early 1900’s) when it just wasn’t understood. From the beginning of my love of photography, I’ve been attracted to abstract so I was very interested in Stieglitz’s work and that part of his life. Anyway, learning about him led me to Georgia O’Keeffe whom he met in 1916 and later married.
What intrigued me was that O’Keeffe sought to capture the emotion and power of objects through abstracting the natural world in her early works. I learned she was influenced by another master – Paul Strand – by how he cropped his photographs. She leaned towards painting close-ups of objects that were highly detailed, yet abstract. I just loved how she pushed the limits when at the time…no one else would even consider it!
I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me
– shapes and ideas so near to me –
so natural to my way of being and thinking…
I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.
(Georgia O’Keeffe referencing her abstract nature)
So this trip to New Mexico I really wanted to follow in O’Keeffe’s footsteps and learn firsthand what attracted her to live in New Mexico when she was so settled in New York with Stieglitz. How can we not admire a woman who in 1929 traveled to New Mexico, bought a Ford and learned to drive! With her new found independence (she left Stieglitz in New York often and traveled back and forth)…she outfitted her car as a mobile studio and one can only imagine her flying down those dusty roads looking for her next subject to paint!
So my New Mexico adventure started in Abiquiu (about 65 miles north of Santa Fe) where O’Keeffe maintained two properties with only one (in the village of Abiquiu) open to the public. (If you’re ever in this area, you can’t just show up…you must have reservations.) Photography isn’t allowed at all inside her home, and only small cameras/camera phones were allowed on the tour to take photos – outside only – so I used my iPhone…which by the way will often do a better job during the brightest part of the day.
I loved learning that she was a collector of sorts…stones, bones and whatever she may find on her excursions…and she was totally enchanted with crosses…
…the view if you were inside of her studio and bedroom looking out…
She had a penchant for rundown adobe homes…and purchased this 5,000 square-foot compound and spent the next three years restoring the structure. Today the Abiquiu home remains much as O’Keeffe left it in 1984 when she moved to Santa Fe. She passed away in 1986 at the age of 98.
I saw the crosses so often — and often in unexpected places — like a thin dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape.
— Georgia O’Keeffe
Loved coming across this old cemetery along the backroads…a small community named El Rito…one of the first Spanish settlements in northern New Mexico. O’Keeffe’s words in the previous quote…like a thin dark veil of the Catholic Church spread over the New Mexico landscape is so apropos as New Mexico gives a whole new meaning to roadside memorials…called descansos. The state even has provisions in place to protect the memorials from being removed. I read that most families believe that a person doesn’t rest in peace until you place a descanso at the site, so it’s often done immediately after an accident.
Then of course in Santa Fe was the visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum…where over sixty years of O’Keeffe’s accumulated art materials are in the museum’s collection preserving her legacy for years to come. No doubt…even in the short time in Abiquiu and in Santa Fe, I really got a feel for why she loved the area so much and could easily understand why she was so drawn to New Mexico…the land of enchantment.
I’ll leave you with one last O’Keeffe quote…
It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine. It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.
I couldn’t agree more about New Mexico and can’t wait to return again one day to explore more!