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

The love affair between the photographer-impresario Alfred Stieglitz and the painter Georgia O'Keeffe has already been well documented. But by introducing two other artistic personalities--their friends Paul Strand and Rebecca Salsbury--to the pair's narrative, Carolyn Burke (No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf) assembles a group biography that tells an exponentially more interesting story about the trade-offs of living the creative life.

In Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury, Manhattan and the Stieglitz family home at Lake George, N.Y., are the primary early-20th-century backdrops. In these settings Burke plays out the quartet's cross-couple flirtations, rivalries and philosophical disagreements (Stieglitz wanted to keep art separate from politics; fellow photographer Strand didn't). The author of several esteemed biographies of artists, Burke does a bang-up job laying out her subjects' interpersonal dynamics, notably Strand and Salsbury's thrall to the other couple, and interpreting her subjects' work (Foursome includes several dozen black-and-white photos and reproductions). Burke leans heavily but rewardingly on correspondence written by her subjects, some of it newly available, some of it amusingly risqué. Where a source is lacking, Burke weaves conjecture into her narrative, all of it reasonable--e.g., "One can imagine [Rebecca] skimming the reviews for mentions of Paul."

Salsbury, a painter who didn't reach her artistic potential until the friends were geographically scattered, is Foursome's most disarming voice. She might have been speaking for all four artists when she told some friends about her time in New York, "Painful as much of it was, I am glad it all existed." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer