In this work, a woman sits on a couch with her shirt pulled up to expose her pierced nipples, which are connected by a chain. She wears an expression of both pleasure and intensity as she points a gun at someone or something outside of the frame. Raven (gun) (1994) is not so much threatening as full of sexuality and potential energy. Opie often photographs her friends, of whom Raven is one, and here she captures Raven in the intimate act of role playing.
Catherine Opie’s candid photograph Cathy (bed Self-portrait) (1987) shows the artist atop a bed wearing a negligee and a dildo; the latter is attached to a whip that she holds in her teeth. Opie is known for her honest portraits of diverse individuals, from LGBT people to football players, and the self-portrait has also been a long-standing and important part of her practice. Instead of hiding her sexuality and interest in sadomasochism, Opie wears it proudly.
Alistair Fate (1994) depicts, presumably, a member of the LGBT community. Catherine Opie is known for her portraits of LGBT, queer, and outsider people; she intends them to come off not as shocking or different, but as human despite their deviance from societal norms. This image is one of several works by Opie in the Kadist Collection that show marginalized people, filtered through the artist’s signature appropriation of formal and classical portraiture in the interest of both documentation and reframing.
Like many of Opie’s works, Mike and Sky presents female masculinity to defy a binary understanding of gender. The very practice of being photographed raises many complex issues around gender performance and the relationships between an inner self and an outer public persona. Even though Mike and Sky are cropped and obscure one another, many of their choices for self-presentation—as emphasized by their tattoos—remain visible.
Although best known as a provocateur and portraitist, Opie also photographs landscapes, cityscapes, and architecture. The Freeway Series was developed in 1995, right after the artist’s inclusion in that year’s Whitney Biennial. As if suggesting that her work should not be restricted to being seen through overtly political or activist lenses, this series lends insight into the city of Los Angeles via its most characteristic urban feature: its highways.
Since the 1990s, Catherine Opie has been recognized for her use of documentary photography to address issues of community and queerness, and the ways in which identity is shaped by architecture. Particularly resonant during the Culture Wars of the 1980s and early 1990s—a time in which the religious right tried to impose itself as a political force and cultural censor—Opie’s photographs privilege the representation of specific communities, whether the LGBT, teenagers, surfers, football players, or her group of friends who engage in sexual role playing, tattooing, and piercing.