Los Angeles mini-malls might seem an unlikely subject for photographer and UCLA professor Catherine Opie. She first gained notoriety in the art world in the mid 1990's with her large-scale portraits of members of the sadomasochistic leather culture in San Francisco. She's also widely known for her images of lesbian family life, high school football players and California surfers.
In the late 1990's, as part of her project "American Cities," Opie photographed urban scenes with a 7" by 17" banquet camera, typically used to photograph large groups of people. She shot Los Angeles mini-malls very early in the morning, before the rush of traffic. Eight of these L.A. images are featured in the upcoming Getty Center exhibit, "Urban Panoramas, Opie, Liao, and Kim."
According to the Getty, the show "displays the work of three contemporary photographers, each of whom explores a specific city and how various modes of transportation define the urban infrastructure." (Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao photographed New York City and Soo Kim shot Reykjavik.) "Urban Panoramas highlights three distinctive bodies of work, each of which explores a specific aspect of urban architecture to capture the essential rhythm of a city," says exhibit curator Virginia Heckert.
Opie's mini-mall images may be devoid of human activity, but they speak volumes about a certain aspect of the way life is lived in Los Angeles — a city designed for, and dominated by, cars.
Urban Panoramas accompanies a larger exhibit, "A Record of Emotion:The Photographs of Frederick H. Evans." Evans, a British photographer who died in 1943, is best known for his images of medieval British cathedrals. The shows open Tuesday and run until June 6.
"Untitled #17, 1998" © Catherine Opie. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles