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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Catherine Opie - Week 7 Blog Post

Due to the lack of response from Judy Baca, I have decided to switch artists and focus on the photographer, Catherine Opie, an openly out lesbian who lives in LA. Her photography integrates political and social commentary with personal and historical themes. Her portraits are evocative of social documentary tradition. She delves into themes of community, fueled by her own identity as a lesbian. Many of her works, including Surfers and Ice Houses, work to challenge our normal readings of certain communities, and shed light on the complexities of their spaces. For instance, she photographs surfers during the times they spend hours simply waiting for a wave, the least heroic part of their identity/community. These works were created by Opie as an outsider, but for many of her portrait works that focus on identity, she creates much more personal, and specific art.

In the photo I have included for today’s post, Opie has said in interviews that the purpose of the colored backdrops is to separate the individual from the world in which they exist, and separate them from the surrounding architectures that have shaped their identity. She seeks representation of the individual’s world through their body. This photo is from her series, Being and Having. It is representative of the question of identity. While the photos are so simple, it feels as though she attempts to evoke the complexity behind lesbian identity, and while the photos are so simple and arguably share similar traits, the intensity of the eyes and faces evokes a sense of complexity. These images are different from street documentary style portraits, challenging what it means to be documentary photography. The subjects are all her friends, adding a personal element to the work, complicating audience perception. In portraying her friends in a dignified and professional photography setting, with a very formal backdrop and quality lighting, she challenges many stereotypes toward her own community. The choice of a yellow backdrop is bold, grabbing immediate attention. The photos are incredibly clear and in focus, inducing a sense of clarity and inability to escape the gaze of the subject in the photo. Using costume photography, the fake mustaches are a witty critique of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a lesbian. The tone of these images is incredibly playful, yet also thoughtful. This series delineates the differences and tensions between inborn identities and identities constructed or shaped by surrounding cultural architecture.

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