B. 1961, SANDUSKY, OHIO
Catherine Opie was born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1961. At an early age, she discovered the work of photographer Lewis Hine, who documented the plight of child laborers at the turn of the 20th century. Inspired by Hine’s photographs, she requested a camera for her ninth birthday, and was given a Kodak Instamatic by her parents. She immediately began photographing her family and neighborhood, exhibiting a fascination with community that continues to this day. She received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1985 and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, in 1988. Her thesis project, Master Plan (1986—88), examined the planned communities of Valencia, from construction sites and advertisement schemes, to homeowner regulations and the domestic interiors of residents’ homes.
Her early series Being and Having (1991) and Portraits (1993—1997) depicted her friends in the lesbian and gay community in Los Angeles, mixing traditional portrait photography with less traditional subjects. In 1994, with Freeways, she made images of the highways around her Los Angeles home that exclude people and automobiles from the compositions. She continued this exploration of the contemporary landscape three years later with Mini-malls. In the Domestic (1999) series, she returned to the lesbian community for her subjects, photographing couples in their homes. Polaroids (2000) documents the performance work of Ron Athey in large-scale prints. Traveling outside the Los Angeles area to find new landscapes and cityscapes to photograph, she photographed the New York financial district, once again emptied of people, in Wall Street and scenes of Minnesota in Icehouses and Skyways (all 2001). A 2003 series of portraits entitled Surfers focuses on the California surfing subculture. For her series Children (2004), Opie returned to the studio and to her signature highly focused portraits, this time of children set against bright solid backdrops. In 2004 the artist extended her study of unpeopled urban sites initiated in 1997, now grouped under the title American Cities, with black-and-white photographs of Chicago. For the series In and Around the Home (2004–05), Opie turned to her home and community as a microcosm for the larger political and social conflicts surrounding the presidential election. In another group of studio portraits from 2013, Opie evoked seventeenth-century portraiture, presenting her subjects in allegorical poses in front of black backgrounds, which remove the individuals from any sense of time or place.