In her many photographic projects, Catherine Opie has explored the tension between private desire and the public face. With the O Portfolio, shown at LACMA in its entirety for the first time in a Los Angeles museum, she offers an anatomy of sexual practices that are often obscured from public view. The photographs depict sadomasochistic scenarios derived from her participation in San Francisco’s bondage community.
The project began as a response to Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio (1978), which featured scenes of gay male sadomasochism. In contrast to Mapplethorpe’s confrontational photographs, Opie presents the subject almost as if it were a faintly recollected dream, or incomplete sense memory. Despite its sexually explicit origins, the portfolio not necessarily about sex, but rather, in Opie words, “it’s about intimacy."