Texas Photographer Traces Route of Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico

“It’s a very quiet, mystical, spiritual place. You walk slowly.”

By Tom MichaelApril 25, 2016 9:30 am,

This story originally appeared on Marfa Public Radio

Texas photographer Walter Nelson has published a new book about the New Mexican landscape where artist Georgia O’Keefe painted.

Nelson points to a map of New Mexico as he traces the route of artist O’Keefe, who made her name in the early part of last century with her landscape paintings of the state. “I went in 30 years ago in search of the Black Place,” says Nelson. “You know, it’s a very elusive place. No one knew exactly where it was 30 years ago, except Georgia O’Keefe.”

Tom Michael/Marfa Public Radio

Walter Nelson holds one of his photographs.

O’Keefe was obsessed with a strange stretch of land called the Black Place, where she painted. Nelson, after dozens of visits, “found the rock that she painted on, and where she camped. So I knew this was the place.”

Oftentimes, visual artists will first take a photograph of a landscape and then make a painting of it. Nelson has done the opposite. He’s studied the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe to find the spot where she worked and then – from the painting – taken a photograph.

“But there’s one spot very close to where Georgia O’Keefe did her Black Place II painting,” explains Nelson, “which is owned by the Metropolitan Museum. And it’s her most amazing abstract painting I’ve ever seen.”

Separated by generations. O’Keefe and Nelson returned again and again –because the strange landscape didn’t just change with seasons, but across a single day. According to Nelson: “I have photographed the formation in the snow, I have photographed in the summertime. You know where she painted. And certain times of day.”

“It’s a very quiet, mystical, spiritual place. You walk slowly,” says Nelson. “But now there are oil wells everywhere, there is fracking going on, pipelines, there are cut roads and so forth. And I haven’t been back in two years.

His new book of photographs is called The Black Place: Two Seasons.