NONFICTION

Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury

Knopf. Mar. 2019. 432p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307957290. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780525655367. BIOG
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Seasoned biographer Burke's (No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf; Lee Miller) march-of-time book chronicles the intertwined lives of four 20th-century influencers who propelled American photography and painting through momentous decades. It's a solidly researched, dishy reinforcement of the notion that artists can be difficult people while showing how human contradictions often make friendship worth it. Alfred Stieglitz, "the father of modern photography," is particularly uncompanionable: paranoid, possessive, prone to soliciting nude photo sessions from young women. Lusty missives and anatomical pet names are quoted to excess, and Georgia O'Keeffe's decades-long struggle to extract her identity from his is a primary driver of the narrative. Photographer Paul Strand's prolific talent vies with his dedicated but preachy-left politics, and, until she jumped ship, his wife, Rebecca Salsbury, remained more cheerleader than participant. Too few illustrations convey the work of this mixed bag of virtuosi: so, read this with image-searching at hand. Although it's too undistilled, Burke does stir in some terrific ingredients: O'Keeffe's battle against sexism, Strand's attempts to make a living as a filmmaker, the establishment of the Taos art community, the tension between the Stieglitz ethos and 1930s agitprop, and the predictable marital collapses.
VERDICT This granular, intervowen group biography will be of most use to devotees of any one of these fascinating figures. [See Prepub Alert, 9/24/18.]

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