Catherine Opie’s portrait of Yosemite National Park is meditative and personal, focusing on individual elements – a waterfall, a tree or the expansive sky above – rather than on the majestic impression of the place for which it is known. Indeed, when she does step back and present a wider view of the vista she is facing, she pulls it out of focus, allowing for a moment of reflection before moving on to the next photograph.
While the artist first became well in the art world for her closeup, often confrontational photographs of human subjects, Opie allows the human presence to “empty out” in her landscape photographs. As she explains in a 2001 interview with Art Journal, “The emptiness is about loss. It’s about nostalgia . . . trying to capture, document people and places before they disappear.” In the context of nature, the emptiness conveys a longing for a time when these landscapes were untouched by mankind.