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Untitled #1 (Jan. 20th, 2009)

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Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Catherine Opie

Untitled #1 (Jan. 20th, 2009)

chromogenic print
37 1/2 in. x 50 in. (95.25 cm x 127 cm)
Henry Melville Fuller Fund, 2012.13

Catherine Opie
American, born 1961


Untitled, #1 (Jan 20th, 2009) captures the aftermath of the half-million-strong gathering on the National Mall that witnessed the first inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. A JumboTron live video feed of Barack and Michelle Obama waving to the crowd occupies the upper left of the photograph. Tall scaffolding holds aloft lighting and speakers, and vertically bisects the image. A stationary truck supports a JumboTron and waits, ready to transport the temporary broadcasting equipment and crowd barriers. Surrounding the JumboTron are the last of the people gathered to watch the historic occasion, their backs almost universally turned away from the photographer’s lens. They are uniform in layers of clothing to protect against the cold temperatures, evidenced by the rows of bare trees on either side of the image. The Capitol building is in the middle distance, pale against a wintry blue sky. The temporary nature of the gathering is suggested by the trash strewn across the ground, camp chairs, and a discarded wooden crate.

Context and Analysis

Untitled, #1 (Jan 20th, 2009) is part of a series of one hundred photographs Catherine Opie took over three days at the 2009 presidential inauguration. The Inauguration series includes portraits of individuals and groups, details of Washington, D.C., and the event preparations. The photographer took the images with a medium-format Hasselblad H2 digital camera. This photograph is about the size of an opened broadsheet newspaper, yet it documents a moment that official press images often overlook—the aftermath of large political events. Time is an important quality of the work. The term of presidency is of a set length, the crowd and its debris are temporary, and the moment Opie captures is fleeting yet iconic. The new president’s wave to the crowd is, at the beginning of his term, still buoyant and hopeful.

The mantra of Obama’s first election campaign was one of hope and change, and the jubilant crowd was large enough to necessitate the deployment of multiple JumboTrons. This image explores another side of being part of this community of celebrants, almost anticlimactic in their dissipated state. Opie’s photograph highlights the act of image making and the transmission of images as a political tool across the ages. The live feed of the Obamas stands in for a presence too far away for these people to witness with their naked eyes. This idea is extended to us, the viewers of her photograph. The image is taken from eye level to suggest our own inclusion in the historic inauguration of America’s first black president. It also suggests a connection to the community gathered on the National Mall, a site that has hosted many previous political events.

Emerging in the 1990s, Opie established an artistic voice through photographic series that investigate individual and group identities. Inauguration forms part of Opie’s wider engagement with American politics and collective action, as captured in her photographs of Tea Party rallies, Boy Scout gatherings, and antiwar marches. This series is also part of a broad tradition of documentary photography of the American landscape and its people. It is in direct dialogue with William Eggleston’s 1976 Election Eve, which charted the hours before the election of President Jimmy Carter, and Robert Frank’s photographs of the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Just fifty years after the 1956 convention, Obama, then an Illinois senator, would make a key speech at the 2006 Democratic National Convention.


The photograph builds on the Currier’s collection of photographs that document transformative events in national history. Opie’s image joins other works of socially concerned photography in the museum collection, including Don McCullin’s images of shell-shocked American soldiers in Vietnam (Currier, 2012.31 , 2012.32 , 2012.33 , 2012.34, 2012.35 ) and Ernest C. Withers’s photographic chronicle of the black civil rights movement in the early 1960s (Currier, 2001.22.1,
2001.22.2, 2001.22.3, 2001.22.4, 2001.22.5., 2001.22.6, 2001.22.7, 2001.22.8,
2001.22.9, 2001.22.10).

Written by Michelle Millar Fisher


A. R. “Catherine Opie’s Photography: A Vision of America.” Review of “Empty and Full,” ICA Boston. Weblog post. The Economist, June 25, 2011.

Blessing, Jennifer, and Nat Trotman. Catherine Opie: American Photographer. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2008.

Chang, Jeff. “Anticipation and Absorption: Jeff Chang on Catherine Opie’s Inauguration.” Review of Catherine Opie: Inauguration. Weblog post. Los Angeles Review of Books, January 20, 2012.

Fonvielle, Lloyd, and William Eggleston. Election Eve: William Eggleston. Exh. cat. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery, 1977.

Opie, Catherine. Catherine Opie: Skyways & Icehouses. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2002.

Opie, Catherine. “Change.” Art 21: Art in the 21st Century, Season 6, 2012. DVD.

Opie, Catherine, and Eileen Myles. Inauguration. New York: Gregory R. Miller, 2011.

Opie, Catherine, and Helen Molesworth. Catherine Opie: Empty and Full. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2011.

Opie, Catherine, and Elizabeth A. T. Smith. Chicago (American Cities) . Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2006.

Sheets, Hilarie M. “Home Views, Bound by Ice or Leather.” New York Times, September 21, 2008, AR29.

2016 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "Urban Landscapes: Manchester and the Modern American City" June 11 - August 29.

Regen Projects, Los Angeles, CA
Purchased by Currier Museum of Art, 2012

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