Cathy (bed self-portrait)
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. Photographed at a time when artistic freedoms were generally under attack in America, Opie’s full-frontal reveal is a kind of revolutionary moment, signifying that expression cannot and will not be suppressed.
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.