The LA Review of Books has produced an illuminating twelve-minute video about the work of queer LA photographer Catherine Opie, which can be viewed above. Below is an excerpt from the magazine's extensive write-up that accompanies the video, which can be read in full here.
The other evolving dichotomy for Opie has been that of portraits and landscapes, sometimes merged, as when people begin to appear in her normally depopulated vistas. In two current LA exhibitions, Opie’s ongoing exploration of the art of portraiture is on display in two very different modes. From the beginning, Opie has been a photographer who instinctively grapples with and adapts to what is in her immediate orbit and a part of her local life — rather than, as many do, traveling far and wide or seeking out the strange and unfamiliar. In Catherine Opie: Portraits at the Hammer Museum, a selection from an ongoing series, she aims her camera at admired artist friends and acquaintances. Although she sometimes ventures beyond her circle (her dream subject, she says, would be Joan Didion), the series is in part a valentine to creative souls with whom she has forged an enduring connection, as much as a study in contemporary portrait-making that alludes to historical painting. Opie also engages in a dialogue about image-making in the age of selfies, going so far, by way of contrast, as to frame some of her subjects in ovals that suggest refined cameos. Floating in spotlight as they emerge from impenetrable black, her sitters take on a theatricality that exaggerates their pose, their gesture, their presence. While some of the artists are seen distracted by their own thoughts, their own dramas, others gaze confrontationally at the viewer. One becomes acutely aware of the intimacy of Opie’s sessions, and of the respectful scrutiny she brings to her interactions with often well-known peers (including Jonathan Franzen, John Baldessari, Kara Walker, Miranda July, Matthew Barney, and the design duo of Rodarte). Opie’s portraits operate in the space between public and private persona, while posing questions about the subtle forms of voyeurism that portraiture permits.