Catherine Opie is an American photographer best known for her portrayal of fringe facets of contemporary American life. Initially inspired by the documentary work of Lewis Hine (1874–1940), who used his camera to expose the plight of child labourers, Opie has worked with a diverse range of communities including lesbian families, sadomasochists, football players and surfers. Despite the seeming disparity of these groups, Opie’s oeuvre is cohesive in its effort to examine society’s perception of the marginalised and foster a new sense of intimacy and community.Read More
Throughout her career, Opie has frequently drawn from her immediate surroundings—including her family and friends—to respond to larger social discourses. Reacting against the homophobic campaigns of the 1990s led by Jesse Helms, Opie depicted her gay and lesbian friends in Los Angeles in 'Being and Having' (1991) and 'Portraits' (1993–1997). Through vibrant colours and formal compositions that bring to mind historic painters like Hans Holbein (c 1497–1543), Opie has portrayed the otherwise denigrated members of the queer community as dignified individuals.
Of her numerous series, however, Opie is perhaps most remembered for her provocative self-portraits. Self-Portrait/Cutting (1993) and Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994), both exhibited at the 1995 Whitney Biennial, depict the artist at a time when she was involved in the leather community. In these photographs, Opie’s torso appears naked and her face anonymous, turned away from the camera or hidden underneath a leather mask. Drawings cut into her skin accompany her body in both images: one of a lesbian couple and the other of the word ‘Pervert’. The two images express the artist’s simultaneous desire for a family and her identity as a queer participant in sadomasochism. Opie’s self-portraits were a callout to the larger gay community, who she felt undervalued the leather community. In her striking declaration of self, Opie demanded that society reconsider its perception of ‘outsiders’.
A controversial figure in her early days, Opie has now come to enjoy critical success. Born in Ohio, she completed her studies in California, receiving a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1985 and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 1988. Since then, the artist has lived and worked in Los Angeles, where she has become a prominent local fixture: in 2001, she began teaching at University of California, Los Angeles, and she also is a board member at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Since her solo debut in 1991, Opie has exhibited widely in the United States, Europe and Japan.
In 2008, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York devoted four floors to a mid-career survey of her work, entitled Catherine Opie: American Photographer. Opie has received the President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Women’s Caucus for Art (2009) and been the recipient of a United States Artists Fellowship (2006), the Larry Aldrich Award (2004), the Washington University Freund Fellowship (1999) and the Citibank Private Bank Emerging Artist Award (1997).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2017
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It's not a whole lot of fun to be an American right now.
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Last week, during the Aperture Foundation's fall gala at a cavernous space in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, Marilyn Minter turned to Catherine Opie while the two artists stood onstage together, and
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American photographer Catherine Opie shot to prominence in the early 1990s with a spectacular body of studio portraits of gay, lesbian and transgender women and men drawn from her circle of fellow art