Photographer of the Day: Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie

b. 1961

Today’s photographer of the day is Catherine Opie, an American photographer who takes portraits, landscapes, architecture, cities, and lifestyle. In one word, her work is about community. She is most famous for her portraits of people a part of “alternative” lifestyles, like LGBTQ individuals and those who participated in the sadomasochist leather subculture on the west coast.

Opie is amazing, the bomb-diggity, the champion of champions. She has a such huge range of work I decided to watch a few documentaries before writing about her, since my knowledge is limited to her Portraits series. I won’t be talking too much about that body of work, since the internet has copiously taken care of that for me.

Opie is from a town called Sandusky in Ohio. The only thing in this small town from the worst state ever is Cedar Point, the theme park of the Midwest (Or, really, Southeast Michigan and Ohio.) Like, it is literally nothing but that. You have your tiny little town, then down the road resorts on resorts and some of the biggest roller coasters in the country. I have no idea why I’m telling you all of this, but whatever. She’s from nowhere. But, she wasn’t nobody.

She moved to San Francisco when she was 13, and her photography career began when she turned sixteen. She got a camera, and took pictures of her community. She was hooked by photographers like Lewis Hine, but she initially went to school to become a teacher. But, JK LOL she went to art school, like many of us before her. So, don’t feel so bad if you’re one of those college students who went for something like science or education, and opted or art instead. Catherine Opie did that, and she is doing just fine! Empowerment! Viva la photographie!

Let’s talk about some of her amazing work.

Being and Having is the first Opie work I was exposed to, and because of it, I can’t help but notice color paper studio backgrounds. When someone else uses yellow or orange, I can’t help but think well someone like Catherine Opie. Because of this body of work, the bright backgrounds became something she was known for, aesthetic wise.

Also, those mustaches are on pointe.

Near the beginning of her career, Opie focused her work on the LGBTQ community of San Fran, which she was a member of. Her Being and Having photographs are supposed to be extremely cropped and close up, to eliminate any distractions, so the viewer is forced to look only at the face. The sitters in all of these images are donning face mustaches, which was Opie’s way of saying that lesbian identity and sexuality is far more complex than we realize. Really tho– home gurl put fake mustaches on people, skewing their identities, and on the little plates below the images, there are the “names” of the sitters, like “Papa Bear.”

Opie, my queen, you nailed it.

Ugh, I could go on forever about her work. I suggest looking at her Ice Houses series and High School Football Players. Ice Houses is about the temporality of a community (because ice melts, who knew?) and High School Football Players is about transition and community. See a theme? She likes to make photographs about community.

Before I make this way too long, I’ll share my favorite Opie works. They are three self portraits, and all of them are striking.

Opie was a part of the sadomasochist leather community in San Fran, and she did not shy away from talking about it.

I freaking love these. Yes, that is Opie in the top image with “Pervert” etched into her chest. She did that with a knife. Because that’s how people saw her. The second image has the life she wants etched into her back. There is figurative and literal pain, since at this point in time, she did not think she would get what she wanted. The last picture is Opie, nursing her son, looking like a Madonna. She did get the life she wanted, after all. You can see the faint white scar of “Pervert” on her chest.

I just. dkjeaoknodjn;eon FEELINGSSS.

So, that’s your crash course in Opie. What’s the magic word to remember her by? COMMUNITY.

The next photographer of the day will be Basil Pao. Keep an eye out! For more photographers, be sure to check out the Photographer of the Day tab!

Happy Shooting!

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