About us
Artists Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie Photo

Catherine Opie

American Photographer

Movement: Documentary Photography

Born: 1961 - Sandusky, Ohio

Catherine Opie Timeline

Quotes

"The most important thing to do is to begin with an idea that tries to answer some questions."
Catherine Opie
"As an artist, I'm interested in having a conversation with the history of representation, exploring what becomes iconic and how to break that."
Catherine Opie
"I concentrate on disturbing the devices that society imposes on variant communities to keep them 'ghettoized' by class, race, sexuality, and gender. It's important that my work be seductive as a visual language, as I want to keep the viewer engaged. This allows for multiple readings which challenge viewers to consider both people and space in their various complexities."
Catherine Opie
"I'm a fan of blood. The permission to play with blood in the 1980s and 1990s was very much political in relation to the AIDS crisis in our community. Blood became the substance everyone was afraid of."
Catherine Opie
"A lot of these questions [raised in the work] have come out in my own history of dealing with homophobia. Why do we have these irrational ideas about 'the other'?"
Catherine Opie
"It's about the humanistic experience, the expectations we have gazing upon a portrait, landscape or situation and if you can walk away having a better understanding or openness about being human, I think that's what I care about the most."
Catherine Opie

"I have vivid memories of going to the National Portrait Gallery. I was probably eight or nine. So often, we relate much easier to a visual world."

Synopsis

Catherine Opie is a contemporary photographer who came to prominence in the 1990s for her uncompromising portraits of her peers in the lesbian, queer, BDSM and leather communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco. As an openly lesbian artist who is part of often denigrated queer subcultures, Opie has spent much of her career documenting underground, subversive, and outsider communities - using extremely stylized, formal conventions of portrait photography to frame unconventional subjects, including herself. These photographs range from intentionally disturbing images of herself wearing a gimp mask with multiple needles protruding from her arms, to touching domestic scenes of lesbian couples in their homes.

Moving away from explicitly portraying queer, gay, and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) subcultures, Opie began to photograph members of other American communities, such as surfers and footballers, continuing to make portraits towards fostering empathy between sitter and viewer. Opie's most recent work is portrait photographs of contemporary artists of all ages, showing their humanity and bodily fragility.

Key Ideas

Catherine Opie's chief contribution to contemporary photography is her use of classical, formal portrait conventions to portray unconventional subjects, such as butch lesbian mothers and BDSM practitioners, each pictured as important, worthy and individualized subjects for formal portraiture.
As a lesbian herself, Opie has documented and shared varied lesbian experiences more than any other contemporary photographer. Her photographs of lesbian mothers, gimps, girlfriends, and drag kings show the humanity and complexity of lesbian women to a broader population.
Important feminist theorist, Judith Butler, wrote that gender is "performative" and that identity is comprised of layers that appear over time according to the actions an individual performs, not just something we are born with. Opie's photographs play with gender - masculinity and femininity are often both present in the same image, and a subject's gender identity is often ambiguous. This is unusual in conventional portraiture, and helps viewers to think about how our own identity is constructed.
Opie's later photographs provide a thorough and original documentation of important contemporary artists working now. These photographs allow us insight into the real identities of these loved and respected artists, and Opie does not shy away from imperfections on the artists' bodies and clothes, allowing us to see them as real humans, as well as important creators.

Biography

Catherine Opie Photo

Childhood

Catherine Opie was born in Sandusky, Ohio. At eight years old she wrote a school book-report on the photography of Lewis Hine and was moved by his appetite for social reform. "Hine was able to change the law through his images of child labour and I got very attached to the idea of what those pictures could do. I haven't stopped using the camera since," she said.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Catherine Opie Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Catherine Opie
Interactive chart with Catherine Opie's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Lewis HineLewis Hine
John Szarkowski
Helen LevittHelen Levitt
Robert MapplethorpeRobert Mapplethorpe

Personal Contacts

Gillian WearingGillian Wearing

Movements

RenaissanceRenaissance
The BaroqueThe Baroque
Modernism and Modern ArtModernism and Modern Art

Influences on Artist
Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie
Years Worked: 1970 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Mary Coble
Nan GoldinNan Goldin
Annie LeibovitzAnnie Leibovitz

Personal Contacts

Tony Greene
Gillian WearingGillian Wearing

Movements

Body ArtBody Art
Feminist ArtFeminist Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Sarah Ingram

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Ingram
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]