Monday, May 14, 2012

Catherine Opie: Untitled #2 (Chicago)

Untitled # 2 (Chicago) 2004- Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie though known predominantly as a portraitist also photographs landscapes and architecture. One of her photos of architecture and the environment is “Untitled #2 (Chigaco)” which was done in 2004. It is part of her larger collection titled “American Cities”. Some of the most recognizable buildings in this photo are “The Marina towers” circular parking garage in the foreground, the house of blues behind them, The Wrigley building in the distance and the Chicago Tribune Tower directly behind it. The Chicago Tribune’s view is mostly obstructed by the Wrigley buildings; in fact the only discernible feature of it is its lights. There are several boats in the photo but all of them are neatly docked. The bridge in the picture is the North State street Bridge and all the water below it is eerily still. The closest object in the picture is the plant in the far most right corner that looks the biggest but in fact is actually the smallest object in the photo. One interesting aspect of the picture is that the streets look like stars yet there are no stars in the sky.
               The first thing we noticed in this picture was that the most prominent building was the parking garage for the Marina towers. We did not even realize that the more important buildings such as the Wrigley building and the House of Blues were in there until we analyzed the picture closely. The prominence of the parking garage over the other buildings is important because it is base of the apartments. But the apartments, which can be interpreted as the household, are not shown. We interpreted this to mean that Opie is hinting at what really drives society, consumerism. By not showing the actual abode of the people but just their property hints at what some people may believe is actually more important. It is the embodiment of material goods of a person being more important the actual person. This made us think about the class discussion that we had about MAC’s  “Juarez Collection”. When analyzing the Juarez collection we discussed how the producer was focusing more on the product and the consumer and not the actual lives of women that they based their products on. They were more worried about making a profit than the horrific events that have been occurring in Juarez. The “Juarez Collection” and the Parking garage both bring up the idea of object vs. subject. The individual is not being represented as a subject in either of these cases, but rather as objects to comply with the consumer culture. This is something that we’ve extensively discussed in the course. It relates back to the idea that women in society are not seen as individuals but rather as objects of desire and because of this discrimination and oppression arise. 
               The next buildings that we identified were the House of blues, The Chicago Tribune, and the famous Wrigley office buildings. All these building though historically more important are almost hidden in the background. The house of blues in fact is almost pitch black and is obstructed by The Marina Towers. The way that we interpreted this outlay began by identifying what each building could symbolize. The House of blues we felt was the embodiment of art and entertainment in society. We saw The Chicago Tribune as the media in society. And lastly we saw the Wrigley office buildings as business and the workplace.  Opie’s explanation of her documentation helps out these symbols together, “The way that history is written is ridiculous, because theories get dismantled over time. So why should I give such specific information beyond the date?” (Driscoll). This dismantling of theories is key to understanding this work. Time changes and destroys theories people hold but the actual things that are changing them are the media, arts, workplace, and people. Their interactions are what make this change. We saw the way that they interact being represented in this photo. The foremost building is The Marina towers, a symbol for the people. Accordingly at the heart of the changes in society are the consumers, the people. The media and business sometimes even art attempt to cater to the wants of the people. So when the people’s wants and ideas change these entities adjust.  In the distance the Wrigley building and the Chicago tribune are observed. Their location in this photo adds to the interpretation of how ideas and concepts change in society.  The buildings symbolize the business and media. These entities have a lot of influence over the social structure. The media provides the information to the public. The media’s power to present the information in the way that they want is how they create change. The sensationalized reports of the media sometimes skew the public’s view on a concept. The media through its portrayal of groups can create stereotypes and ideas that work themselves into the social norm. Business’s standards in the work place set standards for society. In the workplace the structure of power affects the structure of power in society and vice versa. We’ve discussed how the interaction of men and women in the workplace affects the social norm. The balance of power between men and women, blacks and whites, poor and rich translates into the balance of power for society. When men are given more opportunities and better wages in the workplace the business structure is suggesting that men are superior to women. This inequality in the workplace is connected to the views of society; the inequality can translate into everyday lives. If men are constantly given more than women in the workplace some may start to think that this is because men are superior to women. All these factors affect society. One of the most obscured and dark building in the landscape is the House of Blues, art. By being the most obscured we felt that this suggested that art though it is important in how society changes, it is often the least noticed aspect. Some people usually overlook the arts when analyzing society either by dismissing it as unimportant or by naively ignoring its influence. We didn’t even realize that it was the house of blues until we did research on where the photo was taken. In the same way some may not see that influence of art in society until they actually take the time to see how society is structured. Art is an important aspect of society; it is the expression of people. Interestingly enough the house of blues and the Marina towers are coupled in this photo, representing the people and their expressions. The Wrigley building and The Chicago Tribune tower, the media and business, are coupled as well. In society the media and business often work together, sometimes one holds power over the other. The way society changes is important to women studies because by analyzing the key players in society we can begin to understand the ideas around women have formed and how to go about changing them. In many of Opie’s works one of her goals is to break down the homophobia that exists in society. These entities are factors that have affected the view on homosexuals. Yet despite trying to change the view on homophobia through her art Opie states, “I don't think that somebody who's homophobic is going to look at my work and have an epiphany and decide that they're not homophobic anymore” (Driscoll). She realizes that her work is not going to immediately change people’s views, time will. Despite giving a year for her works she doesn’t give a specific date or location. Her photo “Untitled #2 (Chicago)” by not having a specific date creates the sense that this photo captures and era rather than a moment, an era that is subject to change through the entities within it. She hopes to change the views on homophobia so that the world can transition into a new era, with time. 

-Xavier M.E., Blair R. 

Works Cited

Driscoll, Megan. Staring: An Interview with Catherine Opie: Portland Art. 3 February 2011. 12 May 2012.

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