The photographic work of artist Catherine Opie has long been interested with context, how the architecture of the frame, staging, and positioning of the subjects opens the door to new readings, implications and relationships within the work itself. Blending historical references with cultural signifiers and assiduous attention to the color and detail, Opie’s work initiates striking dialogues on identity and meaning in American culture.
Furthering her explorations into the intersections of identity and history, Opie is currently presenting a show of new works at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, delving into the compositional approaches of 17th century portraiture to create new focuses on the body and its interior systems of relation.
Embracing the chiaroscuro portraiture techniques espoused by the Renaissance masters, Opie’s new work exists in a state of high-contrast awareness, emphasizing minute details in the stature and positioning of her subjects while abstracting them from any discernable environment. This approach narrows the focus of the viewer immediately, following the movements of the human form across the frame of the image, and noting the subject’s skin tones, clothing and hair in contrast with the pitch black around them. Movement and stasis, emotion and reserve are thrown into the foreground of the works, posited as a point of focus merely by their presence in the shadowy limits of the piece.
The immediate effect is captivating, bringing the human body and form back into view as a subject in and of itself. Each positioning and pose vocalizes subtle nuances of personality, both in subject and artist, while remaining closely tied to traditions of representation. Opie, through her delicate subversion of these forms, creates a dichotomy between values, challenging the rigid cultural environment that defined the production of these images, as well as their reception as masterpieces.
Alongside these portraits, Opie is also exhibiting a selection of new landscape photographs. Deliberately operating with her camera out of focus, Opie turns recognizable landscapes and locales into a blur of sensations, capturing the interplay of light in the space between immediately accessible images. One could almost infer an active opposition to digital photography at play in these works. As digital cameras turn the act of perfectly focusing a photograph into a simple click of a button, Opie works against convention to explore the fields of vision outside of digitally assisted precision.
Working between conventional tropes and new cultural paradigms, Catherine Opie’s work opens the door to new considerations on the political and aesthetic ascendancy of art history, while contributing to its newest chapters. Her work is on view until March 29th.