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Matinee: 'Catherine Opie on Photographing Artists' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

9 September 2023

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 517th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Catherine Opie on Photographing Leading British Artists.

In this 2:52 video Catherine Opie discusses her portraits of David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Gillian Wearing, Isaac Julien and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye on exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts as Portraits of Artists. The exhibit runs through Dec. 3.

The portraits are part of Opie's ongoing series Portraits and Landscapes which she began in 2012. It depicts the friends, fellow artists, writers, and fashion designers Opie most admires.

The exhibition notes explain:

Drawing on the theatricality of 17th-century Baroque painting, Opie uses high-contrast lighting to render her subjects in dramatic detail. Placing even the smallest details in acute focus, she invites us to explore these powerful and introspective works with what she describes as an ‘extended gaze.’

For Opie, a portrait doesn't distill the essence of a person but instead reflects a moment shared in the studio. She admits she directs "quite heavily," posing the hands, legs, feet and arms. She uses the elements of a formal portait to get the ball rolling.

It's just a shared moment between the sitter and the photographer, she says, but quickly adds, the point is to honor them.

She explains she uses the black backgrounds and focused lighting similar to the chiaroscuro technique of Renaissance painting as a way of depicting the subconscious.

Opie admits to being amused to discover some of these artists were, themselves, portraitists.

She gives each of her sitters their portrait but she never asks them if they like it.

So far, she notes, nobody has complained.

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