Saturday, September 26, 2009

a Few of My Favourite Things

Self-Portrait / Cutting by Catherine Opie

This is one of the more famous photographs by the contemporary photographer Catherine Opie. As the title suggests it is one of her many self-portraits, which often serve dual purposes for her work as both creative as well as personal signposts along the road as if she were sending up flairs for us to find her. Ms. Opie became famous in the mid-90s for her beautiful, classically influenced pictures of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender peoples. Although clearly influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe her work often differed from his in it's tone. Where Mapplethorpe's work could be cold and detached in it's aggressiveness, Ms. Opie's work has a certain wounded tenderness to it. However, her work shared a certain of it's time elements in it's ability to capture a generation coming of age. Ms. Opie was a product of the generation that both came of age during AIDS and also during a time of unprecedented acceptance the GLBT community. Where as Mapplethorpe's work has an aggressive and declarative tone that is much the product of his time, Ms. Opie's work asks the perennial 90s question, "Now What?" GLBT peoples were gaining increasing acceptance within the larger tapestry of American culture but with that acceptance there came a sort of white washing. Will & Grace ruled the airways but what of the fringes of the GLBT community that were not so easily packaged for the masses. Ms. Opie was herself a member of this fringe and many of her self-portraits asks the question, "What about me?" The photograph shown was taken by Ms Opie right around the time that she, and in a broader sense her community, was beginning to struggle with the definition of Family. This photograph pre-dates the eventual battles over Gay marriage, civil unions and the rights of Gays and Lesbians to adopt children. The cutting is of course a kind of archetypal children's drawing of ones family, like a child would draw in pre-school. The photo it self works on many levels. For one, by denying us her face she makes the picture universal in it's implications. She also hides her sexuality from us by removing all of the typical signifiers present in her work. Those in the know will understand that the act of cutting itself is a signifier but it is broad enough that it could take on many interpretations. Her choice of composition and setting are also relevant, she borrows the lessons learned by everyone from Picasso to Warhol of classical framing of the subject and her use of textile draping borrows from Holbien and other old masters. She uses the tools to say directly; "I Matter, but what does that mean for me?" Much like Picasso addresses duality by paying respect to while simultaneously kissing off the past, Ms Opie demands our attention while simultaneously manifesting self-doubt; which in a way makes her one of the most contemporary of artists, because what defines our era more than a mix of Narcissism and Self-Loathing that is almost Bi-polar in it's intensity and voracity.

1 comment:

  1. I find the picture interesting. My question is did the artist cut herself or did someone else do the cutting or did someone else cut her. Then the question is who is the artist the cuter or the person with the vision. Then where did her work go from there.