Catherine Opie

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Catherine Opie
EducationSan Francisco Art Institute, California Institute of the Arts
Known forPhotography
Notable work
Being and Having (1991), Portraits (1993—1997), Domestic (1999)
AwardsGuggenheim Foundation Fellowship

Catherine Opie (born 1961)[1] is an American fine-art photographer. She lives and works in West Adams, Los Angeles.[2]

She is currently a tenured professor of photography at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).[3][4]

Opie studies the relationships between mainstream and infrequent society, with a large emphasis on sexual identity, specializing in portraiture, studio, and landscape photography.[5] Through photography Opie documents the connections between the individual and the space inhabited.

She is well known for her portraits exploring the Los Angeles leather-dyke community.


Opie was influenced early in life by photographer Lewis Hine.[5] At the age of nine she received a Kodak Instamatic camera, and she immediately began taking photographs of her family and community.[6] Opie spent her early childhood in Ohio.[7]

She completed a Masters of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1988, her thesis project Master Plan (1986–88) examined the planned communities of Valencia, California, from construction sites and advertisement schemes, to homeowner regulations and the domestic interiors of residents' homes.

In 1988 Opie moved to Los Angeles, California and began working as an artist, supported herself by accepting a job as a lab technician at the University of California, Irvine.[8] Opie and her companion, painter Julie Burleigh,[9] constructed working studios in the backyard of their home in South Central Los Angeles.[10]

At the Hammer Museum, Opie was on the first Artist Council (a series of sessions with curators and museum administrators) and served on the board of overseers.[11] Along with fellow artists John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha, Opie served as member of the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 2012, she and the others resigned; however, they joined the museum's 14-member search committee for a new director after Jeffrey Deitch's resignation in 2013.[12] Opie returned in support of the museum's new director, Philippe Vergne, in 2014,[13] she is also on the board of the Andy Warhol Foundation.[4]

Along with Richard Hawkins, Opie curated a selection of work by the late artist Tony Greene at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York.[14]


Dusty by Opie, 2007

Opie's work is characterized by a combination of formal concerns, a variety of printing technologies, references to art history, and social/political commentary, it demonstrates a mix between traditional photography and unconventional subjects.[6] For example, she explores abstraction in the landscape vis-a-vis the placement of the horizon line in the Icehouses (2001)[15] and Surfers (2003) series[16], she has printed photographs using chromochrome, iris prints, Polaroids, and silver photogravure. Examples of art history references include the use of bright color backgrounds in portraits which reference the work of Hans Holbein[10] and the full body frontal portraits that reference August Sander.

Opie's work from the 1990s could be related to the traditions of Renaissance and Baroque art: placing her subjects central to the composition, utilizing stark, dramatic light source, allowing her subjects to fall in front of rich backgrounds; Opie's images relay a more aggressive undertone. Certain art historical attributes throughout her images, themes and/or icons that have been referenced throughout art history.

Use of certain symbols in her works have allowed these portraits to sit separately from any of her previous works; the portraits, for instance, from Opie's more recent work in 2012, the image David, utilizes blood. The symbolism used in this work is recognized as a reoccurring statement for Opie, personally and allegorically; these images convey symbolic references to the celebration, embracing and remembrance of the shift and personal relationship with one's body.

Unlike other artists, Opie grounds her work in personal relationships, meanings and histories; however, this unfortunately precedent's the ability for one to read these images outside of the intimate content. Most of Opie's work sits in this very personal community, allowing for selective perceptions. Where some viewers may not understand certain allegories and symbols within her work, individuals who know Opie's work well can very identify specific conceptual or metaphorical statements within the images themselves. Where these images demand to be read as allegories, the performative aspect of this work differs from previous work Opie has produced.

Opie's earlier work relies more heavily on documentary photography as opposed to allegorical, yet still provides a stark relationship to her investigation and use of powerful iconography throughout the years.[17]

A common social/political theme in her work is the concept of community. Opie has investigated aspects of community, making portraits of many groups including LGBT community; surfers; and most recently high school football players. Opie is interested in how identities are shaped by our surrounding architecture, her work is informed by her identity as an out lesbian.[18] Her works balance personal and political, her assertive portraits bring queers to a forefront that is normally silenced by societal norms.

Opie first came to be known with Being and Having (1991) and Portraits (1993–1997), which portray queer communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Being and Having looks at the outward portrayal of masculinity and is a reference to 17th-century Old Master portraiture,[19] it conveyed strong ideals and perceptions based among persons of the LGBT community, referencing gender, age, race and identity; all constructed surrounding identity. This body of work similarly plays with performative aspects and play; these works read as iconography, themselves.

Catherine Opie has referenced problems of visibility; where the reference to Renaissance paintings in her images declare the individuals as saints or characters. Opie's portraits document, celebrate and protect the community and individuals in which she photographs.[20] In Portraits (1993–1997) she presents a variety of identities among the queer community such as drag kings, cross dressers, and F-to-M transexuals.[21][19] During her time in Los Angeles, Opie focused heavily on her surrounding environment for her works Houses, Freeways, and Mini-malls. Houses (1995–1996) shifted towards domestic architecture through portraits of Beverly Hills and Bel Air mansions. Freeways (1994–1995) depicts the Los Angeles highway system in black and white, which was unique to her usual style. Mini-malls (1997–1998) concluded her works on iconic images of Los Angeles culture by depicting billboards as well as identifying various ethnic groups in shopping centers.

This Los Angeles-focused series sparked her ongoing project American Cities (1997–present) which is a collection of panoramic black-and-white photographs of quintessential American cities; this series is similar to an earlier work of hers, Domestic (1995–1998) which documented her 2-month RV road trip, portraying lesbian families engaging in everyday house-hold activities across the country.[22]

Drawing inspiration from transgressive photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin, and sex radicals, who provided a space for liberals and feminists, Opie has also explored controversial topics and imagery in her work. In her O folio—6 photogravures from 1999—Opie photographed S-M porn images she took earlier for On Our Backs, but as extreme close-ups.

Opie's first film The Modernist (2017) is a tribute to French filmmaker Chris Marker's 1962 classic La Jetée.[23] Composed entirely of still images, this film has Pig Pen (aka Stosh Fila)—a genderqueer performance artist—as the protagonist. The Modernist has been described as a ode to the city in which it takes place, Los Angeles, but it is also seen as questioning the legacy of modernism in America.[24]


  • Freeways. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • Catherine Opie, essays by Kate Bush, Joshua Decter & Russell Ferguson. The Photographers' Gallery, London.
  • Catherine Opie: In Between Here and There. Saint Louis, MO: Saint Louis Art Museum, 2000. With an essay by Rochelle Steiner. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Catherine Opie. The Photographers' Gallery, London, 2000.
  • Catherine Opie: Skyways and Ice Houses. Walker Art Center 2002.
  • 1999 / In and Around Home. The Aldrich Contemporary Museum of Art, Ridgefield, CT, and the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA, 2006.
  • Chicago (American Cities), curated by Elizabeth T.A. Smith, published by Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2006.
  • Catherine Opie: An American Photographer. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 2008.
  • "Catherine Opie" This is Not to be Looked At. Morse, Rebecca. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, 2008.
  • Catherine Opie: Empty and Full, Molesworth, Helen, ed. Hatje Cantz, Stuttgart, 2011.
  • 700 Nimes Road, Catherine Opie, with essays by Hilton Als, Ingrid Sischy, Prestel, Munich, 2015.
  • Catherine Opie: Keeping an Eye on the World. Buchhandlung Walter König, König, 2017.[25]




  1. ^ "Catherine Opie - Artists - Regen Projects". Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  2. ^ Steve Appleford (January 27, 2013), Catherine Opie's documentary photography is on display Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ "Catherine Opie - Professor, Photography". UCLA Official website. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  4. ^ a b Levy, Ariel (March 13, 2017). "Secret Selves". The New Yorker: 58.
  5. ^ a b Reilly, Maura (2001). "The Drive to Describe: An Interview with Catherine Opie". Art Journal. 60 (2): 82–95. doi:10.2307/778066. ISSN 0004-3249. JSTOR 778066.
  6. ^ a b "Catherine Opie: American Photographer". Guggenheim; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  7. ^ Liesl Bradner (August 21, 2010), Football and art collide at LACMA Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Catherine Opie: American Photographer, September 26, 2008 – January 7, 2009 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  9. ^ Lisa Boone (April 12, 2013), Garden is her canvas, flowers and edibles (and chickens) her paint Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ a b Hilarie M. Sheets (January 27, 2013), Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather The New York Times.
  11. ^ Susan Emerling (April 19, 2009), The Hammer Museum gets together with artists, outside the box Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ Mike Boehm (September 24, 2013), MOCA adds artists who resigned from board to its director search team Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Mike Boehm and Deborah Vankin (March 19, 2014), Artists return to MOCA board Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ David Ng (November 15, 2013), Whitney Biennial 2014 to include L.A. artists, David Foster Wallace Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art. "Untitled #14 (Icehouses)". Minneapolis Institute of Art. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  16. ^ "Icehouses and Surfers". Guggenheim. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  17. ^ Getsy, David (2017-02-21). "Catherine Opie, Portraiture, and the Decoy of the Iconography" (PDF). School of the Art Institute in Chicago.
  18. ^ "Catherine Opie gives us "Girlfriends" -". 17 July 2012. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  19. ^ a b Guralnik, Orna (2013). "Being and Having an Identity: Catherine Opie". Studies in Gender and Sexuality. 14 (3): 239–244. doi:10.1080/15240657.2013.818872.
  20. ^ Getsy, David (2017-02-21). "Catherine Opie, Portraiture, and the Decoy of Iconography" (PDF). School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  21. ^ "Portraits". Guggenheim. 2010-09-08. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  22. ^ Gurealnik, Orna (2013). "Being and Having an Identity: Catherine Opie". New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: 2 – via Routledge Taylor&Francis Group.
  23. ^ Sparks, Kaegan. "Catherine Opie – Art in America". Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  24. ^ "An Eerie Ode to LA Architecture in Catherine Opie's First Film". Hyperallergic. 2018-02-08. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  25. ^ a b 1961-, Opie, Catherine (2017). Catherine Opie : keeping an eye on the world. Hansen, Tone., Bresciani, Ana María., Henie-Onstad kunstsenter. Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König. ISBN 978-3960982074. OCLC 1003758665.
  26. ^ Forester, Ian (3 March 2015). "Catherine Opie: Cleveland Clinic" (Video). Art21. Art21 Annual Fund Contributors. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  27. ^ ICA. "Catherine Opie". Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Mark and Marie Schwartz, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Sandy and Les Nanberg, and Regen Projects. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  28. ^ "Catherine Opie: Portraits and Landscapes | Wexner Center for the Arts". Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  29. ^ "A Catherine Opie moment in Los Angeles at MOCA and the Hammer". Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  30. ^ Mizota, Sharon. "Lautner fans, be warned: Catherine Opie's 'The Modernist' will play like a horror movie". Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  31. ^ "L.A. Story: Catherine Opie on Her Controversial Photographs of Los Angeles Subcultures, in 1998". ArtNews. January 22, 2016. Archived from the original on April 14, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  32. ^ Mike Boehm (October 26, 2010), Herb Alpert-funded awards will pay five artists $75,000 each Los Angeles Times.
  33. ^ "Catherine Opie Named 2004 Larry Aldrich Award Recipient - Announcements - e-flux". Retrieved 2019-03-04.
  34. ^ Regen Projects, Catherine Opie. "Biography". Regen Projects. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
  35. ^ a b "Opie receives Smithsonian's Archives of American Art Medal". UCLA. 3 January 2017. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-06-02. Retrieved 2018-11-29.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation". Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  38. ^ Easter, Makeda. "Guggenheim fellowship 2019: Robin Coste Lewis and Catherine Opie among 20 SoCal winners". Retrieved 2019-04-11.

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