The Whitney Biennial, which has never quite known how to deal with photography, ignores it almost completely again this year, but Catherine Opie’s series of slate blue seascapes, dotted here and there with surfers, looks pretty terrific there. It’s even more striking at her gallery, where 14 views from the Malibu shoreline face off with 12 portraits of young surfers fresh out of the water and still soaking wet. With the becalmed ocean as a backdrop and battered boards under their arms, the surfers face the camera in a state of suspension. They’re fish out of water, poised for the moment to dive back in. But once they do, Opie isn’t interested in the usual hotdog heroics; her surfers aren’t dashing daredevils riding luminous curls of water, they’re tiny shapes bobbing together in the nearly colorless surf, watching and waiting. The photographer shares their patient persistence, observing them until a haze obscures not only the horizon but the entire scene, and the sequence ends with a foggy gray monochrome that gently but pointedly tweaks Hiroshi Sugimoto’s minimalism.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 16, 2004