April 30, 2013
By Elizabeth Khuri Chandler
On a blustery Friday morning near USC, photographer Catherine Opie opens the front gate to her 1908 Craftsman home. “Come on in,” she says. She’s wearing a peaked hat, dress shirt and loose-fitting jeans, eyes framed by thick white glasses. We pass a tangle of succulents and overgrown flowers and walk inside, where Opie’s partner—a painter and resident green thumb—Julie Burleigh, is just leaving for the day.
The feeling is cozy and intimate: worn oriental rugs, an Arco lamp, a disco Gumby by Raymond Pettibon, a small Lari Pittman in the hallway, a stylized photograph of two men dancing together by Robert Mapplethorpe is in the living room. Out the back door, past a chicken coop and a beehive, is Opie’s Roger White-designed studio. Here, the skylights have shades so Opie can block out the sun and create those Holbein-inspired studio portraits for which she’s known. Today, however, the shades are pulled back, shedding light on her latest project hanging on the walls: Elizabeth Taylor’s closet. Shot with a Hasselblad H2 with a digital back (in Opie’s opinion, the closest approximation to film), the photographs are close-ups of silks and ermine hanging cheek by jowl, almost unrecognizable beyond texture and color. “What is iconic?” she asks. Throughout her career, she has consistently toyed with that concept. In the 2003 series “Surfers” and the 1994-95 series “Freeway,” she reworked those L.A. motifs. “Surfers are always on a wave; mine are waiting,” she says. “Freeways are always full; mine are empty.” Read More.