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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
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Summer 2004
Visual Road Trip
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Photographer Catherine Opie
Whether it is icehouses on a frozen lake in Minnesota or surfers at Malibu, photographer Catherine Opie crisscrosses the country to capture images that describe what makes a community

By Cynthia Lee

An apparition takes shape in the diffused light filtering through the hazy morning fog that obscures the ocean view from Sunset Beach in Malibu. A lone surfer floating in the white foam of a shallow trough waits expectantly between incoming sets of waves. The artist's eye of photographer Catherine Opie framed this moment of quiet anticipation in panorama, with the horizon line barely discernible as it separates air from water. For the viewer, Opie sought an ethereal perspective.

"I chose this place because I wanted it to feel as if you were floating out over the edge" — into water, into air, into a place where Opie has suspended time, space and a moment of unfulfilled, yet hopeful, expectation.

Even before the art world began to take notice more than a decade ago of the groundbreaking work of fine-arts photographer Catherine Opie, she was making compelling images that document what she calls "a specificity of place," based on her lifelong fascination with the way "place" relates to identity, community and history.

In her latest series on surfers, recently exhibited in the 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York, Opie, a professor of art, has once again defined "place," this time as the boundless ocean. Her interest here is not in the act of surfing, but in this liquid public space where temporary communities are created, where two surfers, strangers from different social strata, can form a temporary bond as they straddle their boards on the rolling swells and wait.

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