Catherine Opie first came to critical attention in 1994 for her exhibition Portraits,
which featured direct, confrontational photographs of Los Angeles' gay and lesbian community. She draws upon the tradition of such artists as August Sander and Bernd and Hilla Becher, who photographed and classified their subjects by types. Opie unflinchingly documents with the detachment of an anthropologist, but also inscribes the photographs with the insight of an insider, for this is her community.
These photographs form part of a "domestic" series Opie created during a two-month, cross-country road trip to photograph lesbian couples and families in their homes. Her purpose was to "shed some light on the broader ways in which families can be constructed." The images are poignant examinations of personal relationships as played out in the privacy of the home--couples holding hands, embracing, sitting with their families around a kitchen table. Although Opie staged each picture, the tableaux appear unselfconscious and open, maintaining a neutrality that lends the pictures an essential credibility.
Opie recently worked with Walker Artist-in-Residence Cheryl Dunye on her project Stranger Inside, a screenplay about a young woman in prison. Opie traveled to the Minnesota State Correctional facilities in Shakopee and Stillwater to create a series of photographs that were used to accompany the staged readings of the screenplay.
These two works are the first by Opie to enter the Walker's permanent collection, continuing the museum's tradition of developing long-term relationships with emerging artists. As a further commitment to her work, the Walker has invited Opie to be Artist-in-Residence with the Visual Arts Department in 2001-2002.