Catherine Opie initially made a name for herself in the early 1990s with color portraits of friends and acquaintances from lesbian and transsexual communities. Around the same time, she started using black-and-white film and an extra-wide-angle panoramic camera to capture some of the distinct architectural features of Los Angeles, beginning with the soaring geometry of freeway overpasses (Freeways, 1994-95) and the generic forms of mini-malls. These series were followed by Saint Louis (1999-2000), Skyways (2001) in Minneapolis, Wall Street (2001), and Chicago (2004), all part of her ongoing "American Cities" project, which employs the same horizontal format to portray the American urban experience.
Opie received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and a master of fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. For her MFA thesis she documented a model housing project, setting the stage for future projects that would feature architecture or portraiture or a combination of the two to address issues of identity and community in the United States. Opie lives in Los Angeles and has taught in the art department at the University of California, Los Angeles, since 2001.