Challenge and formal construction in the works of Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie, American photographer, uses a diverse range of precedents to engage her wide-ranging subject matter. She references sixteenth century portraiture, social documentary approaches from the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century, and formalist photographic discourse to portray members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual community. The legacy of these disparate traditions presents conceptual challenges, but Opie engages with their significance and ultimately produces work that refuses layers of stylized distancing in historical portraiture, the objective distancing in social documentary, and the aestheticized distancing in formalist work. While respecting these histories, Opie nevertheless organizes much of her critique through a formalist vocabulary because of its stranglehold on much of twentieth century art. Opie's choice of formalism, her use of color, her use of beauty, and her use of art historical references is in keeping with a contemporary feminism that does not limit choice in framing images, even if it carries the artist into contested territory.