Our relationship with nature in art has always revolved around concepts of a romanticised slowness of life, taking breaks from capitalism, reflecting our environment, or exploring essentialism.
O’Keefe’s magnified flowers depict that “to see takes time” and points to the “immensity of nature”, but also unearths a pandora’s box of seemingly endless discussions about how flowers remind us of women’s genitalia (which she always denied the validity of). This interpretation underpins a Freudian, essentialist and damaging belief of women being inherently delicate beings (see Faith Holland challenge this symbolism in her gif “Most Beautiful Dick Pics of All Time”). In a world were any paintings of flowers are seen as soft, twee and kitschy romanticism, Tanya Barson pointed out that male art critics, including her husband who promoted her art, perpetuated this assertion.
Similar politics are reflected in the glorification of nature’s slow pace, where many of us don’t have the time or money to take a break, so we take pictures instead. Our camera rolls are like O’Keeffe's sketchbooks - we take multiple photographs that play with angles, zoom in and out, collect, edit and crop. This time without the essentialist undertones, but just because we appreciate and embrace the fact that our devices can give us a connection to the environment, which I think was the main thing O’Keeffe was fundamentally trying to achieve. While her painting technique sways between magical realism and hyperreal aesthetics, our phone photography displays a distortion, too. When zoomed-in, our images are blurry and slightly pixelated, revealing new visuals found in the obstacles of the camera’s quality. I like to think that this deformity suggests a type of post-hyperreal human relationship with wildlife; we can’t seem to get close enough to properly and fully experience nature through our devices. No matter how advanced the technology, politics of proximity still persists, and we can never fully empathise and see what’s past the lens. The idea of 3D printing everything, VR re-creating real compassion, transhumanism, or evoking any emotion through technology seems impossible as we’ve tried so hard and failed every time. The dull distortion in phone pictures, a weird analog twist to digital photography, indicates that we just can’t get close enough. My take is that we should embrace the blur, the “phoney” inauthenticity, because that’s less of an illusion than it’s optical illusion, and more real than the stressful search for the ultimate genuine experience, the singularity and the core of the essence.