In honor of our conversation between Catherine Opie and Eileen Myles in Houston on Saturday, April 29th, 2017, we present this two-part series on the landmark works of Opie, a photographer, and Myles, a poet and author. Part One features some of Opie’s iconic works. (Click here for tickets to the talk!)
Catherine Opie is an LA-based photographer who gained wide recognition for her searing portraits, both of herself and of the queer and trans community, in the 1990s. Since then, her other bodies of work have included ice fishing; surfers; high school football players; and most recently, an elegiac series of photographs on our National Parks.
Portraiture has been a cornerstone of Opie’s work since her earliest days as a photographer. Whether isolating contemporary figures against a single colored background, channelling the theatricality of Dutch Golden Age masterworks, or showing people relaxed and naturalistic in domestic settings, Opie captures the essence of the individuals she photographs. Her portraits are always memorable and never boring.
(all images from Regen Projects)
Three of Opie’s most famous works are self-portraits. In the first, from 1993, she has a childlike drawing of a home with two skirted stick figures holding hands cut into her back. The second, from the following year, is one of Opie’s most difficult images: in it, she wears an S&M hood, has spikes running up the skin of her arms, and the word “Pervert” has been pricked in a decorative, frilly font onto her chest. In the final image, from a decade later, a topless Opie nurses her infant son, her strong, tanned hands cradling his milky skin. The scarification on her chest from the previous image is still visible.
In addition to her portraits, Opie has been interested in landscapes since her early days. This luscious platinum print of a freeway overpass measures a tiny 2.25 x 6.75 inches.
Later series continued the use of black-and-white horizontal framing, exploring different aspects of cityscapes.
Opie has also had a longtime interest in landscapes, both natural and manmade, with and without people.
The image above is from Opie’s series on surfers, which gave way a few years later to a series on high school football throughout the central United States.
Her most recent book, 700 Nimes Road, was the subject of an exhibition last year at the MOCA Pacific Design Center. The book includes a comprehensive documentation of Elizabeth Taylor’s home. Opie was granted access to the house at the end of Taylor’s life and shortly after the actress’ death in 2011. Humdrum brick-a-brack clutters surfaces alongside Oscar statuettes and other movie memorabilia. The fussy closet feels like it could be your grandma’s closet — that is, if your grandma had a closet the size of a New York apartment, with a hair washing sink in it.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, on Eileen Myles. We look forward to welcoming Catherine and Eileen to Houston on April 29th, 2017. Please join us for what will surely be a funny, sharp, smart conversation between old friends.