Since the late 1980s, Catherine Opie's interest in the motif of the visual road trip has resulted in photographic series that simultaneously document and question personal and collective identities that characterize America. For the past two winters, as the Walker's 2001 Visual Arts artist-in-residence, she has focused on two specific architectural elements in and around the Twin Cities: ice-fishing houses and skyways.
Working from the traditions established by such master photographers as Eugene Atget, Edward Weston, and Robert Frank, Opie is well versed in the medium's ability to reveal those signs in the built environment that shape people's sense of belonging. Her city series first focused on the hidden aesthetic language of Los Angeles mini-malls and the architectural feats of freeway overpasses. As a keen survey of history, her photographs of St. Louis, Missouri, address the contrast between the city's aspirations for urban development once envisioned in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and the realization of urban sprawl that has since displaced the downtown area. Her most recent works about New York's Wall Street District, finished shortly before September 11, should also prove historic.
Opie's American cities series explores the historical specificity of architectures that are often taken for granted. Her take on the Twin Cities' vernacular landscape has resulted in 26 panoramic black-and-white images of skyways as well as 14 large-format color images of ice-fishing houses. As a photographic project, Catherine Opie: Skyways & Icehouses provides a meditative portrait of this particular locale. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition features selected submissions by Minnesota residents who have had particular experiences with and in these local icons. Their short essays animate Opie's empty landscapes with personal anecdotes, memories, poems, and stories.
The artist was recently the focus of solo exhibitions at the Photographer's Gallery, London, and the St. Louis Art Museum. She teaches photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Two works from her series on lesbian families and their domestic spaces are recent additions to the Walker's permanent collection.