Born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1961, Catherine Opie has lived in California for over three decades, and the Golden State has been integral to the artistic vision pictured in her prolific body of photo-based work. Her early photographs garnered her both infamy and high praise, as she portrayed a world that patriarchal culture hoped to render unseen: queer communities and subcultures, including the lesbian leather and sadomasochism scenes. Opie later produced methodical studies of urban environments that documented cultural phenomena as well as the potential to produce counternarratives, as in her California Freeways (1994–95) and Mini-Malls (1997–98) series.
Individuals and their relationship to the landscape, whether urban or natural, have been an abiding interest that spans Opie’s diverse bodies of work. In the series Political Landscapes, Opie turns her incisive gaze on political protest marches that have taken place in Los Angeles since the early 2000s, in which she has actively participated. For this special presentation, Opie has compiled a selection of photographs that provide a glimpse into civic and social engagement and affirm the collective and individual right to freedom of speech and expression. The subjects range from protests against the war in Iraq and demonstrations for immigration and labor rights to the Women’s March in 2017 and more recent Black Lives Matter events. Originally scheduled to screen as part of the exhibition New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century, which has been postponed to 2021 as a result of the pandemic, Political Landscapes now serves as a vital prologue to New Time. The compilation screens on the hour on BAMPFA’s outdoor screen through the end of November.