Given the extraordinary range of Catherine Opie’s subject matter over the last 20 years — from Southern California freeways to Minnesota ice houses, the streets of Washington on President Obama’s first inauguration to the interior of Elizabeth Taylor’s home, the fierce figure of performance artist Ron Athey to American high school football players — what’s most striking initially about her recent work at Regen Projects is how closely it recalls the portraits that first made her name in the 1990s.
Here, as then, she photographs friends and acquaintances, many of them tattooed or otherwise self-distinguished, in a classical manner against a solid, monochromatic ground. Here, as then, the effect is frank and tender, betraying an astute commitment to the beauty and dignity of the individual.
Ultimately, however, the differences are even more striking than the similarities, revealing as they do the maturity, even wisdom, to accrue in the intervening years, in the career of this exceptionally hard-working artist.
While the early portraits, like most of her portraits since, focused on a particular slice of society — lesbians in drag, or members of the San Francisco S&M community — these encompass a pointedly undifferentiated swath, with individuals ranging from childhood to old age.