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jtucker's picture

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It's safe to say Catherine Opie doesn't make your average self-portrait.

Now I can get behind fetishes as much as the next guy, but when that borders on masochism, that's a whole other level of commitment. While I cannot imagine what it is like to willingly endure the pain that clearly went into this work (it took an hour and fifteen minutes to do the cutting and having the needles inserted!), it doesn’t stop me from awarding some mad respect points for Catherine Opie.

Opie self identifies as a “kind of twisted social documentary photographer.” Can you guess why? Opie has had an affinity towards the camera from a young age. She finds it the most effective way to describe the world around her, and her world at the time she made this work was filled with leather, whips, and a vivacious queer San Francisco community. While Opie was deep into the S&M community at the time, she actually created this work in the early 90s to discredit conservative politicians who were trying to suppress the counterculture in which she was so deeply entrenched.

It was not just politicians she was offending with this picture, when Opie’s mother saw this picture for the first time, she broke down in tears. Her sister-in-law even refused to let Opie see her niece after she found out she created this work. While that may seem a little harsh, turns out Opie finds the work a little hard to look at too, which is probably a hard pill to swallow as the cuts in her skin have left permanent scars that remain on her chest to this day.

Many consider this work to be Opie’s art world breakthrough when it was first exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1995. Since, people have been identifying her as the artist who captures America’s identity, and might I say that I couldn't be prouder of that fact. If having the brutal confidence to express who you truly are is what it means to be American, then I say let those stars and stripes fly high, for that is a message we can get behind.

So was this picture enjoyable for Opie to make? Opie explains that she loves S&M, for the pain makes her feel more alive. While Opie rarely dabbles in S&M today, she explains that “I’ve worn out any desire for being a bottom. If I play now, I’m the top.” And might I say, we love a girl in charge.