When we think of American artists, two of the most prominent names that arise from the twentieth century are Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe. It might be surprising to know that not only did these two artists develop lasting legacies within the art and photography worlds, but they shared a lifelong friendship based on their adoration of the natural world.
O’Keeffe and Adams first met in New Mexico in 1929 and traveled through the Southwest and into Yosemite together in 1938-39. While trips to the Southwest helped O’Keeffe escape the “arty” scene of New York City and experience the beauty of nature, Adams used the opportunity to meet some of O’Keeffe’s New York friends who would accompany her.
According to an article in The New Yorker, Adams once wrote of O’Keeffe: “No one else has extracted from [the Southwest] such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”
While Adams was a photographer and O’Keeffe was a painter, they both captured the compositions and natural forms of the American Southwest with beauty and reverence in their respective mediums. There were even several moments when their work met at interesting crossroads with both artists capturing the same subjects in their work, such as in parts of the Southwest and in Hawaii. In these instances, the viewer can see both the similarities and differences in how each artist chose to display their subject. Their work has even been exhibited and published together, such as in the 2008 exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
O’Keeffe herself also served as an inspiration in Adams’ work. He captured her in a photograph at her home at Ghost Ranch with Orville Cox, the head wrangler at Ghost Ranch, on the rim of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona (photo above). Canyon de Chelly is owned by the Navajo Nation and is portrayed in several other photographs by Adams and contemporary photographers in the exhibition.
Exhibition organized by