Opie rose to prominence as a photographer at the height of the culture wars between traditional and conservative values in the 1990s. Her portraits of all types of people—figures clad in leather, tattoos, and piercings, as well as surfers, high school football players, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered world—examine the way that American archetypes project their identities via self expression. Interested in how architecture shapes personas, Opie is also known for her crisp, ethereal landscapes of sprawling glaciers and suburban freeways.
Most notable of all are Opie's self-portraits, in which she lays her vulnerability out in the open, depicting herself frequently in raw moments—while breastfeeding her daughter or bare-chested and bleeding from self inflicted wounds. The subject of a mid-career survey at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2008, Opie continues to offer a radically honest view of American identity with her iconic imagery.