Saturday, March 6, 2021

Catherine Opie at San Diego Medium Photo Festival

by Patricia Frischer

The key note speaker for the Medium Photo Festival this year is Catherine Opie and she was involved in a whole day of activities with scott b. davis who is the organizer of this amazing annual set of activities for photographers. There was a student round table in the morning, the studio tour which I reported on below and then the wonderful slide lecture with question and answers. I recommend that you watch this video made by LA County Art Museum first before you proceed.

An exclusive tour for Medium Photo Festival of Catherine Opie's Los Angeles Studio

Catherine walked us through her extensive studio space and made comments and descriptions of what we were looking at all along the way. This was an incredible opportunity to feel as if you were live with her and part of the joy of this new virtual world we are living in.

Seeing her space room by room and area by area was a bit like the sequencing that she talked about in her work. Although each photo stands on its own, seen as a series it is rather like reading a page full of paragraphs. Seeing the entire body of her work then becomes a book of chapters…and you will have that opportunity this May when a new book about her appears. She found that creating, archiving, then the editing process is of interest to her after 30 years of creation. She will be 60 in April.

She spoke about the importance to her of bearing witness to each part of the history that we live through. This legacy of all your materials tells the story of your process.  She became aware of that being important because of her involvement on foundation boards. 

We got a chance to see some of her current work which she describes as unpacking the American landscape.  During her RV road trips, she photographed monuments being removed and protest marches. She captures  decisive moments, big or small in the world around her. Time and again she added symbolic meanings to the works with her words…a tree trunk where she is trying to see her roots, sunsets as bookends when the sun has not yet set on Black Lives Matter.

She discussed her process, for example, sometimes using a cell phone which makes vertical and blurred landscapes.  Portrait/vertical formats for landscape is a counter indicated conceptual idea.

We saw the chair that has been used in her studio portrait work and she likes that those type of objects become markers that are comforting when you study the whole body of her work. There is a new metal wall so that she can use magnets instead of push pins to do layouts.

Opie confided that she had to get used to taking photos with a digital camera and having her face hidden behind the equipment. So she likes to peak out. She wants a quiet studio, usually no music, for these sessions which she directs quite specifically. She aims to create a chill atmosphere and limit the portrait times to 30 to 45 minutes only.  

We see her spaces for printing, for archiving, for camera storage. She is contemplating a Cannon printer as lately Epson has not been that responsive to fine artists. And she has “branched out” to making ceramic tree stumps which you can see in the picture of the studio library.

The work on view at the Regen Projects that had to be closed to the public because of the pandemic, is a series of stop motion collages. She shared a box full of magazines cut outs, questioning if magazines will even be there for us in the future?

The Catherine Opie we saw today is excited to break rules and remain fresh and determined to make her own legacy. She is not just one boxed in person but always curious and always changing. 

scott b. davis

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