Catherine Opie

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'Dusty' photograph by Catherine Opie, 2007

Catherine Opie (born 1961 in Sandusky, Ohio[1]) is an American fine-art photographer. She studies the relationships between mainstream and infrequent society, specializing in portraiture, studio, and landscape photography. Through photography Opie documents the connections between the individual and the space inhabited. She lives and works in West Adams, Los Angeles.[2] She is well known for her work of portraits exploring the Los Angeles leather-dyke community. Opie is currently a professor of photography at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).[3]


Opie was influenced early in life by photographer, Lewis Hine. At the age of nine she received a Kodak Instamatic camera, immediately capturing her family and community.[4] Opie spent her early childhood in Ohio,[5] but her family moved near San Diego when she was 13 years old.[6] She studied childhood education for a year as an undergraduate, but soon went to the San Francisco Art Institute to earn her bachelor of fine arts degree.[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]


Opie's work is characterized by a combination of formal concerns, a variety of printing technologies, references to art history, and social/political commentary. An example of formal concerns include addressing issues of the horizon line in the "ice house" and "surfer" series. 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[11] and the full body frontal portraits that reference August Sander. 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.[12] Her works balance personal and political. Her assertive portraits bring queers to a forefront that is normally silenced by societal norms.

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.[13] 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.[14] Opie returned in support of the museum's new director, Philippe Vergne, in 2014.[15]

Along with Richard Hawkins, Opie curated a selection of work by the late artist Tony Greene at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York.[16]

List of works[edit]

Opie has multiple bodies of work:

  • Master Plan (1986–88)
  • Being and Having (1991)
  • Portraits (1993–97) Chromogenic Prints in various sizes. These portraits of "queer" people references August Sander and Hans Holbein.
  • LA Houses (1995) Chromogenic Prints 40' x 50"
  • LA Freeways (1994–95) Platinum Prints 2 1/4' by 6 2/4" which relate to images in a rear view window and early photographs of Egyptian ruins.
  • Mini-malls (1997) Iris Print 16" x 41"
  • Domestic series (1995–98) Chromogenic Prints in various sizes. Portraits of Lesbian relationships throughout the United States.
  • Wall Street (2001)
  • Ice Houses (2001) – The series is an outgrowth of a residency at the Walker Art Center.
  • Surfers (2004)
  • High school football players (2008) – The series looks at American identity through iconic images and a redefinition of landscape in a photographic practice. From 2007, Opie shot hundreds of portraits of enthusiastic football players and moments in between plays across seven states including Alaska, California, Louisiana and Texas.
  • Twelve Miles to the Horizon (2009) - Commission from Hanjin Shipping, Opie boarded a container ship traveling from the Port of Busan, Korea to the Port of Long Beach, and documented the sunrises along the way. The photographs were exhibited with the artist's journal entries at the Long Beach Museum of Modern Art
  • Girlfriends (ongoing)

Throughout her career, Opie has taken photos of American cities including St. Louis, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York.

In Self Portrait/Cutting (1993), there is an image of a house and two stick figures in dresses is freshly cut into Opie's back. In Self Portrait/Pervert (1994), Opie wears a leather mask along with 46 needles inserted in both arms; on her chest the word "Pervert" is written, freshly cut into her chest (cuts were made by a knife).

“I made the piece out of a reaction to all of the sudden gays and lesbians’ bringing on the ‘normal’ dialogue to us,” - Opie [17]

In Self Portrait/Nursing (2004), Opie breastfeeds her infant son with the word "Pervert" still visible as a scar on the front of her chest.[18]


  • 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, essay by Rochelle Steiner. Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO, ills.
  • 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.


  • Catherine Opie at Photographer's Gallery London and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
  • "Catherine Opie: American Photographer" A mid-career survey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from September 26, 2008 till January 7, 2009 curated by Jennifer Blessing. It included an encyclopedic exhibition catalogue of all of Opie's almost 200 works since 1988, loosely divided into two sections: portraits and landscapes.
  • "Somewhere in the Middle", 2011, is a permanent installation in the Hillcrest Hospital Cleveland Clinic, curated by Joanne Cohen. The original work was created to engage hospital visitors, employees, and patients during difficult moments in their life.[19]
  • Catherine Opie: Empty and Full, 2011, exhibited in Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.[20]

She shows regularly with Regen Projects,[21] Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.


  • Citibank Private Bank Emerging Artist Award (1997).
  • Washington University Freund Fellowship (1999).
  • CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts (2003).[22]
  • Larry Aldrich Award (2004).
  • San Francisco Art Institute President's Award for Excellence (2006).
  • United States Artist Fellowship (2006).
  • Women's Caucus for Art: President's Award for Lifetime Achievement (2009).[23]


  1. ^
  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. ^ "Catherine Opie: American Photographer". Guggenheim. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Liesl Bradner (August 21, 2010), Football and art collide at LACMA Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Hilarie M. Sheets (January 27, 2013), Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather New York Times.
  7. ^ Hilarie M. Sheets (January 27, 2013), Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather New York 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. ^ Hilarie M. Sheets (January 27, 2013), Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather New York Times.
  11. ^ Hilarie M. Sheets (January 27, 2013), Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather New York Times.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Susan Emerling (April 19, 2009), The Hammer Museum gets together with artists, outside the box Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ Mike Boehm (September 24, 2013), MOCA adds artists who resigned from board to its director search team Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Mike Boehm and Deborah Vankin (March 19, 2014), Artists return to MOCA board Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ David Ng (November 15, 2013), Whitney Biennial 2014 to include L.A. artists, David Foster Wallace Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. (Sep 21, 2008). "Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather". The New York Times. Retrieved Nov 27, 2012. 
  18. ^ Steve Appleford (January 27, 2013), Catherine Opie's documentary photography is on display Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ Forester, Ian (3 March 2015). "Catherine Opie: Cleveland Clinic" (VIDEO). Art21. Art21 Annual Fund Contributors. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  20. ^ ICA. "Catherine Opie" (WEB). The 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. 
  21. ^ David Ng (June 25, 2012), Regen Projects provides early look at new gallery in Hollywood Los Angeles Times.
  22. ^ Mike Boehm (October 26, 2010), Herb Alpert-funded awards will pay five artists $75,000 each Los Angeles Times.
  23. ^ Regen Projects, Catherine Opie. "Biography". Regen Projects. Retrieved 2012-11-26. 

External links[edit]