Photographing America’s Threatened Wetlands, Catherine Opie Makes a Case to Not Drain the Swamp—See Images Here

As galleries and art institutions around the world begin to reopen, we are spotlighting individual shows—online and IRL—that are worth your attention.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #3 (Swamps) (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.
Catherine Opie, Untitled #3 (Swamps) (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

As galleries and art institutions around the world begin to reopen, we are spotlighting individual shows—online and IRL—that are worth your attention.

 

Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes
at Lehmann Maupin, New York
through September 26, 2020

 

What the gallery says: “This exhibition, featuring large-scale photography and stop motion animations, examines our current climate, both political and ecological, through digital collages of magazine clippings and photographs of the Okefenokee swamp land. Taken together, these works create a portrait of contemporary America—plagued by the divisive and violent rhetoric used by our current administration and facing looming ecological destruction due to climate change, which is especially threatening for the wetlands Opie features here.

One of the most significant American photographers of her generation, Opie has produced over two decades of work that examines and often exposes the ideals and norms surrounding American identity and the concept of the “American Dream” while giving visibility to communities overlooked within those narratives. She first gained recognition during the 1990s for her series of studio portraits titled ‘Being and Having,’ in which she photographed gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals drawn from her circle of friends and artists. Opie has also traveled extensively across the country exploring the diversity of America’s communities and landscapes, documenting quintessential American subjects including LA’s freeway system, high school football players, the 2008 presidential inauguration, and US National Parks. In her portraits and landscapes, Opie often establishes levels of ambiguity—of identity and place—through manipulating the focus of her images through cropping, blurring, intense close ups or distance shots, and playing with orientation, often swapping landscape and portrait formats.”

Why it’s worth a look: At first glance, it might seem strange that photographer Catherine Opie’s new body of work focuses on swamps. After all, Opie is best known for her intimate and unflinching portraits that challenge stereotypes of beauty and gender. But upon closer examination, Opie is traversing similar territory here, taking as a subject something that is often misunderstood: the swamp, which is riddled with negative connotations (“drain the swamp,” for instance, one of President Trump’s favorite rallying cries). For Opie, though, swamps are necessary and under-sung ecosystems that the current administration is literally threatening with its changes to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In these large-scale photographs of Okefenokee swamps throughout southern Georgia and northern Florida, Opie turns her lens on a diverse community of creatures—owls and alligators appear hiding amid the dense foliage—and exposes its raw beauty. Juxtaposed with the swamps are a suite of Opie’s self-described “political collages,” stop-motion animated films based on cut-out images from contemporary magazines. The films are projected on hand-painted grids, harkening back to Opie’s series “The Modernist,” and riffing on the actual politics of landscapes in cities across America.

What it looks like:

Installation view, "Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes" at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

Installation view, “Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes” at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

Catherine Opie, <i>Untitled #3 (Swamps)</i> (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #3 (Swamps) (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, <i>Untitled #2 (Swamps)</i> (2019). © Catherine Opie Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #2 (Swamps) (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, <i>Untitled #7 (Political Collage), </i>(2019). © Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie, Untitled #7 (Political Collage), (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, <i>Untitled #8 (Political Collage), </i>(2019). © Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie, Untitled #8 (Political Collage), (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Installation view, "Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes" at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

Installation view, “Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes” at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Boernstein.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #1 (Swamps) (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, <i>Untitled #4 (Political Collage), </i>(2019). © Catherine Opie Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #4 (Political Collage), (2019). © Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Installation view, "Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes" at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

Installation view, “Catherine Opie: Rhetorical Landscapes” at Lehmann Maupin. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.


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