On a clipboard are many other pictures, possibly of actresses, models, or friends, that are identical or closely resemble one another, suggesting his fascination with the ways photography could create multiple, if only slightly different depictions of a person or thing. By presenting women as innocent children, seductive maidens, and mothers, Stieglitz revealed not only a youthful fascination with the opposite sex, but also his recognition that through a kind of photographic collage he could join disparate images to address a larger idea than could be revealed in any single work. His composite portrait of Kitty from the turn of the century extended this idea to include many pictures of her made over several years and in a variety of activities. Yet both My Room and his collective portrait of Kitty were too intensely personal, sometimes too banal, to form works of art with universal appeal. That would not be a problem with O’Keeffe.
In less than eight weeks before they left for Lake George in August 1918, Stieglitz made more than fifty studies of O’Keeffe, a prodigious number for a photographer who had averaged little more than a dozen finished works per year for the last decade (Key Set numbers 471–529). These portraits from their first summer in New York reflect their growing closeness and O’Keeffe’s increasing comfort at being the object of such concentrated scrutiny. But they also show Stieglitz’s mounting fascination with seriality and the possibility of photographing the same subject day after day, often in only slightly different poses, mining each arrangement and expression for its greatest potency. In many of the first studies, made most likely before he separated from his wife Emmy and before Stieglitz and O’Keeffe began living together in July 1918, O’Keeffe looks off to the side, as if she is uncertain of her ability to maintain steady eye contact with the camera or with the photographer himself for an extended period of time. As in his earlier studies of her from 1917, he posed her in front of her art; for example, positioning her head so that it was perfectly contained within the ovoid form of her drawing of the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas; or posing her hands to hold a button on her coat, repeating the forms bubbling up from the canyon floor (Key Set numbers 480 and 474). As their intimacy grew, so too did his ability to conjoin the artist and her art, and he began to suggest, far more explicitly than he had done in the past, that O’Keeffe’s body and art were one. Radically cropping his compositions, he positioned her head, arms, and hands against empty pieces of paper so that their forms not only mirror those in her charcoal drawing, but merge with it to become elements in her composition (Key Set number 490). In one study he made her charcoal drawing appear to spring forth from the crown of her head as the manifestation of creative invention (Key Set number 493).