The Photographs

By | 1 May 2018


She takes upon herself his varied visions.
She serves his art as priestess, holding still
for the long minutes needed as the shapes
impress themselves upon the coated glass.
He turns his lens on every part of her:
the hollow of the collar-bone, the belly’s
swell, the dark declivities, the creases
at the corner of an eye. His pictures
show her most and least herself, absolve her
of herself, resolve her. How we long
for resolution, revelation, form,
and here it is. The shutter clicks. Art lifts
the fleeting moments out of time.
We hold them still in images and rhyme.


This is the photograph I love the most.
No artifice, no poses, just her face,
shadowed and softened, looking out at us.
No, not at us, at him. I know that look.
She’s been dissolved by love and making love,
made simple, opened up by intimacy.
She who was guarded is unguarded here,
the boundaries are blurred. I think of Blake,
his lineaments of gratified desire,
which was, he said, what men and women seek
in one another. Soulful animals.
There’s melancholy here and merriment.
Despite the shadows something is transparent
and even luminous: she’s fully present.


The book of photographs – of course I bought it –
is large and elegant, thick ivory paper,
verso pages blank beside each print.
We were in Boston. Windows framed grey sky,
bare wind-whipped trees, but in the gallery shop
it was all gleam and glory. Music too:
one of the Strauss Last Songs, expansive, grand,
as if a ship sailed from a fjord out
upon the open sea. And so I felt,
and so I feel, remembering. The pages
blurred before my eyes. Why tears? Because
of music and of art. Because a bond
as difficult and doomed as ours could make
this moment and this monument, this beauty.

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz
Published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, revised edition 1997.

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