Photo of the Week: “Chicken” by Catherine Opie, 1991, from the series Being and Having

Catherine Opie, Papa Bear, Chief, Jake, and Chicken from “Being and Having” series, 1991.

Catherine Opie, Papa Bear, Chief, Jake, and Chicken from “Being and Having” series, 1991.


One of my goals this year is to be more intellectually open to works I find aesthetically challenging. Catherine Opie is one photographer whose portraits of others and self-portraits I just cannot appreciate, not because I take exception to her context, agenda, or stated subject matter, but because my eyes just don’t love the juxtaposition of flesh against patterned or fabric backgrounds.
The image “Chicken” (lower right) has entered a larger popular culture forum because it is used prominently in promotional materials and in the opening credits of the cable television series The L Word (one of the characters is a museum curator in California). When I first saw this photo I didn’t realize the person in the photograph was a woman but I did peg it as an Opie because the Chromagenic prints are easily identifiable and the camera available to just a few elite photographers. The intentionally forced and obviously faked identities in this series speak to our recent discussions of photography as an arbiter of “the real.”
The technology, to me, is more interesting than the image itself, and it adds a level of construction, predetermination, and staging that exceeds even Opie’s elaborate theatrics.

What do you think?