One rainy day last weekend, I found myself in the Hammer Bookstore, one of my favorite places. I’d ventured out to see the new portraits by Catherine Opie, the LA photographer whose work is hanging simultaneously in two places around town. The Hammer’s show consists of twelve large formal portraits of Opie’s friends– formally gorgeous, sumptuously well-lit, and composed to feel like Renaissance paintings. Each captured a rather intimate pose, which made me want to know more about the artists, some of whom I recognized (John Baldessari, Jonathan Franzen, Kara Walker), but others I did not. Here is more about the show at The Hammer, including a brief bio of the artist.
Back in the bookstore, I poured through several older books of Opie’s work before stumbling on a treasure. I fell in love with 700 Nimes Road, a monograph of Opie’s behind-the-scenes documentation of Elizabeth Taylor’s home and possessions.
Opie was granted six months access to Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. Permitted unlimited freedom to take pictures on the grounds, rooms, (and closets), of an extremely private woman, these shots represent a rare, and respectful, glimpse of the real, and rather ordinary, life of a beloved icon. Ordinary arrangements of dried flowers and framed photos of loved ones, rare because the snapshots depict Ms. Taylor with Michael Jackson. These images survive purely thanks to serendipity; Opie and Taylor had the same accountant, a gentleman who had the insight to trust Opie, and invite her in. Apparently, Taylor instinctively assented, although the women never met. We are left a bittersweet legacy, including gems such as this dizzying composition of the world’s most famous jewels in casual repose.
Ironically, Opie and Taylor never met. The actress passed away while the project was ongoing. All the more reason to treasure the images, and respect the way Opie handled her subject. Here are some images from T Magazine’s story on the work.
Catherine Opie: Portraits – The Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, LA 90024
700 Nimes Road, MOCA PDC, 8687 Melrose Ave, LA 90048