I Love You, Catherine Opie-ness

Catherine Opie, Oliver in a Tutu, from In and Around Home series, 2004. Chromogenic Print, 24 x 20 inches.

Finally, the last photographer I chose to emulate is another female photographer named Catherine Opie.  I am in awe of every photographic composition she renders, so I jumped at the chance to construct a photographic portrait of Lennon in her style.  I was actually successful with these photographs because I managed to conceptually and formally achieve similar qualities Opie chooses to include in her photographs.  I love how she toys with her own identity in relation to her photographic compositions constructing her son Oliver’s identity.  Oliver in a Tutu was the first photograph I noticed because she dressed her son in a pink tutu and a football shirt.  At first glance, I thought her son was female because the brightness of the pink struck my eyes so vividly, but then I realized he was wearing a team football shirt.  I loved how, in this photograph, she incorporated her own identity struggles projected onto the environment surrounding her son.  The series in which this photograph is included within is entitled, In and Around Home, and within the foreword of the book it states, “These photographs capture a nuanced view of another America, populated by a diverse community whose values and identities exist in a contemporary state of flux.”[1]

Polly Nance, Lennon Gendered Pink, 2011. Digital image, 20 x 30 inches.

Being a mother, I am constantly pondering over the development of identity within my children and am realizing that everything I surround my kids with becomes reflected into their identity.  I think about our ephemeral society and the issues of mass consumerism often as a mother because I find myself buying clothes I do not need because they are feminine and pink to dress Lennon in.  Lennon Gendered Pink is my attempt at an Opie like composition similar to Oliver in a Tutu, yet based solely on femininity rather than a combination.  My son Rush has plenty of clothes and toys to pass down to Lennon, so why must I feel compelled to play along with our society engaged in mass consumerism and allow society to construct the identity of my daughter and of myself?  In addition to this Opie series I was looking at, I found a series she did called Children in which the children are:

Highly focused, often three-quarter length views of sitters who look at or just beyond the camera, set against richly colored, seamless backdrops… by substituting the children of friends, fellow artists, and curators for her friends from the California S/M leather scene… Opie made a striking statement about how her identity, artistic and personal, had changed over the course of a decade[2]

Catherine Opie, Jessie, from Children series, 1995. Chromogenic Print, 20 x 16 inches.

Polly Nance, Lennon Gendered Blue, 2011. Digital image, 40 x 30 inches.

I noticed that the children are pretty much expressionless, as in the photograph Jessie, and all address the camera directly with their eyes.  I was ecstatic, therefore, to capture a moment where Lennon looked directly at the camera, while also being surrounded by unnecessary quantities of pink and highly feminized articles of clothing.  I also attempted my own version of a highly masculine construction of a portrait in Lennon Gendered Blue and tried to Opie’s portrait photographs, which are similarly constructed like her Children series.

Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait/Cutting, 1993. Chromogenic print, 40 x 30 inches.

Polly Nance, Lennon’s Back Identity, 2011. Digital image, 40 x 30 inches.

Opie is known for her use of bright, solidly painted backgrounds but she sometimes supplements the painted backgrounds for fabric ones, referencing domestic interiors.  In my photograph Lennon Gendered Blue, I tried to emulate Opie by incorporating domestic fabrics relating to babies/children for the backdrop and dressed Lennon in her brother’s blue sear-sucker onesie.  The background glowed a little more than I had wished but I think it also succeeds in pronouncing itself clearly as a fabric quilt.  I gave Lennon a stuffed animal, which was a bulldog dressed in a blue football jersey, because I thought it would allude to all the photographs of Opie’s I’ve mentioned so far, while also addressing issues concerning identity and mass consumerism.  My last photographic attempt is a photograph entitled Lennon’s Back Identity and is meant to recall Opie’s Self-Portrait/ Cutting as it focuses upon the back of Lennon as her head turns left, granting us a profile view of her face.  Although there are no permanent scarring of child-like drawings adorning her back, the ripples of her flesh create a beautiful effect I feel is also enhanced within Opie’s photograph.


[1]Catherine Opie, 1999/ In and Around Home (Ridgefield: The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum/ Orange County Museum of Art, 2006): 9.

[2]Catherine Opie. Catherine Opie: American Photographer (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2008): 210.

One thought on “I Love You, Catherine Opie-ness

  1. Thank you for dropping by and liking my Skeletal Remains post in my f-stop fantasy blog at http://fstopfantasy.wordpress.com/
    Did you catch my other post of the day, Guardian of the Dead? You might like it also.

    You definitely have a different way of looking at things. And I think that’s a necessary thing in photography. I try to do that, but don’t know if I succeed in that or not. But it’s always a challenge.

    I have a hard time getting my camera out when it’s below freezing, which it’s slated to be for another week, then mid- to low-thirties for the rest of the month, and that’s the highs.

    Continued success.

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