Lesbian photographer Catherine Opie may now be a mother and wife, but that’s not going to stop her from continuing to do provocative work as she has in the past. Coming off of a highly successful mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim last year, she is at the point in her work that she can do whatever she wants and be paid attention to — not that she has ever not done what she wants to begin with.
If you’re not familiar with Opie or her influence, look no further than the opening sequence of The L Word (seasons 2 – 6) and you’ll see her self-portraits lining the wall behind Bette in a gallery.
Opie’s work has always been very queer, but also includes several other themes within that, from S&M to drag to her constant work on what is butch. And now with her latest series, “Girlfriends,” she’s putting together photos from her archive of “friends and lovers” and taking new portraits (including celebrities like JD Samson, Jenny Shimizu and Katherine Moennig) to show off “iconic butch lesbians.”
Opie recently talked with Vice about her work, her sexuality and how the two are deeply involved.
On pulling old photos from her archive for “Girlfriends”:
It’s kind of like an ode to my former life, before domesticity and motherhood. [laughs] I’m not really hanging out in the dungeons anymore or shooting the SM community in the way I used to.
I don’t think I would have dared touch the archive like I’m doing now if it wasn’t for this exhibition that I’m planning. And also coming off of having 20 years of work being up at the Guggenheim, it gives me a different kind of permission to re-enter my work and look at things that are just part of what a voracious documenter I was. Often I decided not to show certain photos for different reasons, like following too closely on the heels of Mapplethorpe or wanting to get tenure as a teacher. [laughs] Kind of conservative reasons. Yet I’ll put Pervert out there, which doesn’t make any sense. That’s the dichotomy of me.
On her former project Dyke Deck, in which a deck of cards featured a different lesbian:
It was really fun to do that. I did an open call in San Francisco. A good portion of them were friends, but some were people I had never even met. They just came and performed for me, and it was so fun.
On when she knew she wanted to be a photographer:
At nine years old. My first self-portrait was in a summer show at Barbara Gladstone last year—it’s me at nine years old wearing these little flowered pants with the zipper half down and making muscles in front of my house. It’s really cute. I got my camera on my ninth birthday. I asked my parents for a camera because I did a book report on Lewis Hine and then just announced that I was going to be a social-documentary photographer.
On her exhibition about high school football players and if the subjects were familiar with her work:
I was a little nervous about that because my Wikipedia page had my self-portrait, Pervert, on there. So I did a little editing, and put a high school football player there instead. And now I have a warning on my Wikipedia page that I’ve changed the content and I’m a bad human being. I had a Wiki war with somebody who kept wanting to change it back to the way it was. Because that’s the thing, it’s the work that everybody goes to right away, but it’s really a very small representation of the work I’ve made.
I can’t wait to see what happens with “Girlfriends” when it is completed and begins to show. Are you an Opie fan?