Gem Fletcher chats to Catherine Opie. Known for her powerfully dynamic photography that examines the ideals and norms surrounding the culturally constructed American dream and American identity. She first gained recognition in the 1990s for her series of studio portraits titled Being and Having, in which she photographed gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals drawn from her circle of friends and artists. Opie has travelled extensively across the country exploring the diversity of America’s communities and landscapes, documenting quintessential American subjects—high school football players and the 2008 presidential inauguration—while also continuing to display America’s subcultures through formal portraits. Using dramatic staging, Opie presents cross-dressers, same-sex couples, and tattooed, scarred, and pierced bodies in intimate photographs that evoke traditional Renaissance portraiture—images of power and respect. In her portraits and landscapes, Opie establishes a level of ambiguity of both identity and place by exaggerating masculine or feminine characteristics, or by exaggerating distance, cropping, or blurring her landscapes.
Catherine has just released a new monograph – published by Phaidon, the book is organised in three themes: people, politics and place – the core tenants of her artistic investigation. It’s presented non-chronologically, a curatorial strategy she has been experimenting with for the last decade., which teases out connections between seemingly incongruent bodies of work. The result is a book with such a dynamic visual narrative, you can return to it again and again and see something new.
In the episode we talk about everything from visual strategies, audiences in the digital age, self-doubt, road trips, bearing witness, empathy, belonging and so much more. What is remarkable about Catherine is the ways in which she has the ability to shapeshift as an artist, to show a multiplicity of inquiry, queering the medium over and over again.
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