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. By documenting the monumental concrete structures devoid of humans or vehicles, one is suddenly conscious of their real scale, an element only emphasized by the small format of the printed photographs. The otherwise unnoticed massive structures are thus made strange. Like Allen Ruppersberg’s Untitled (City Limits), which also are taken along the freeway, Opie’s photographs have particular resonance within the Kadist’s “101 Collection.”
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.