For a portrait of Diana Nyad, who, at sixty-four, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, Opie photographed her naked, from behind, showing the ghostly white flesh that had been covered by her bathing suit, offset by the leathery brown of the rest of her body.
The pictures were so intimate that you could almost smell them.As the Los Angeles art critic David Pagel put it, in 1994, “The strangest and most telling quality that Opie manages to smuggle into her images of aggressive misfits is a sense of wholesomeness.”Opie grew up in the Midwest.She was going to be a kindergarten teacher before she became a photographer. “ ‘Self-Portrait/Cutting’ was about longing,” Shaun Caley Regen, Opie’s gallerist since 1993, told me.“It was about an unattainable ideal—two women, a house, whatever it was she felt she couldn’t have—cut into her back.”In the intervening decades, Opie has moved from marginal radical to establishment fixture. A., and sits on the boards of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Andy Warhol Foundation.In 2008, the Guggenheim devoted four floors to “Catherine Opie: American Photographer,” a major mid-career retrospective that attracted some three thousand people a day. She earns more than a million dollars in a good year.