© Catherine Opie, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Thomas Gane Gallery, London.
In 2011, after visiting a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at London's National Gallery, the American fine art photographer Catherine Opie conceived the idea of shooting a series of portraits and landscapes inspired by the Old Masters. Last night, for her first show with Thomas Dane Gallery in London, a new chapter in this series was unveiled. Opie chose friends and people in her creative sphere as subjects, including artists (Anish Kapoor, David Hockney, Gillian Wearing and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye); fashion designers (Duro Olowu and Rick Owens), the writer Jonathan Franzen and the curator Thelma Golden – photographed against the same black background, and lit in such a way that they glow like embers, allowing each one's individuality to speak for itself.
'I've never had any interest in recreating existing works,' Opie explains in her soothing contralto. 'What I find enticing about Old Masters is the allegory they create of the world at the time they were painted.' As one of the greatest living documentarians of the American landscape, sociopolitically as well as literally, Opie's images capture our zeitgeist the same way that Walker Evans' encapsulated the effects of the Great Depression, or Ansel Adams eternalised the breathtaking beauty of the threatened natural world through his studies of Yosemite National Park.