Posts Tagged ‘American storyteller

10
Jun
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem MA

Exhibition dates: 7th March – 21st June 2015

 

Duane Michals. From the series 'I Remember Pittsburgh' 1982

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
From the series I Remember Pittsburgh
1982
Nine gelatin silver prints
Greenwald Photograph Fund and Fine Arts Discretionary Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

 

I couldn’t resist. Another posting on the work of this extraordinary artist. I particularly like The Bewitched Bee (1986) and Who is Sidney Sherman?, replete with blond wig and fag hanging out of the mouth accompanied by very funny and perceptive text.

There is also a very interesting piece of writing on life and photography included in the posting, Real Dreams, from 1976.

Marcus

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Bewitched Bee
1986
Thirteen gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text
5 x 7 in. (12.7 x 17.8 cm)

 

Michals uses photography to spin what amount to Ovidian legends, as in The Bewitched Bee, a sequence of thirteen images in which a young man stung by a bee grows antlers, wanders through the woods, and finally drowns in a sea of leaves.

 

 

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals, the first major U.S. retrospective of the artist’s work in 20 years. Through image sequences, multiple exposures and the overlay of handwritten messages and pigment, Duane Michals (b. 1932) pioneered distinctly new ways of creating and considering photographs. The last half-century of this artist’s prolific, trailblazing career is explored in a carefully selected presentation of more than 65 works. Organised by the Carnegie Museum of Art, Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is on view at PEM from March 7 through June 21, 2015.

Michals’ career has been fuelled by his enduring curiosity about the human experience and has been defined by its continual creative exploration and reinvention. A self-taught practitioner, he emerged on the photographic scene in the 1960s, at a time when Ansel Adams’ austere mountain ranges and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic street scenes ruled the day. Rather than journey outward to depict nature or patiently wait to capture a decisive moment, Michals sought a new method of expression for his psychological and imaginative vision. He worked with friends and acquaintances to stage sequences of photographs that sought to express things that cannot be seen directly, such as metaphysical  reflections on the passage from life to death. Later, he added handwritten text to the images’ margins, further challenging the prevailing sanctity of the single pure photograph.

“For Michals, the need to authentically express himself trumped any interest in being accepted into the mainstream art world. His work charts fresh territory, creatively mixing philosophical rigour, surreal witticism and childlike playfulness with an unabashed sentimentality and nostalgic longing,” says Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense. “In Michals’ photographs we encounter an uncommon vulnerability as well as a resolute search for meaning and human connection.”

Raised in a steelworking family outside of Pittsburgh, Michals has explored familial and personal identity as a recurring theme. In a rarely exhibited 30-photograph sequence titled The House I Once Called Home (2003), the artist explores the abandoned three-story brick house where he spent his childhood. Each image is paired with poetic verse of remembrance and reflection to create an intimate photographic memoir and metaphysical scrapbook. Recent photographs are superimposed on historic images as the series toggles through time, space and memory. The home’s current dilapidated state contrasts with reveries of a formerly bustling family home and a rumination on the passage of time and the inevitable succession of generations.

Michals’ lifelong adventure with photography began on a trip to Russia in 1958. Borrowing a camera from a friend, he discovered a way to interact with people and tell stories. Shortly thereafter, Michals moved to New York City where he supported himself through work as a commercial photographer for Vogue, Esquire and Life magazines and took portraits of notable artists including Meryl Streep, Sting and Willem de Kooning. In the 1960s, Michals began his earliest experimental narrative sequences that were exhibited in 1970 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The curator of the show, William Burback, noted that “the mysterious situations Michals invents are posed and theatrical. Yet, they are so common to the urban condition that we have the illusion of remembering scenes and events experienced for the first time.” Later he began adding text to his photographs such as This Photograph Is My Proof (from 1974), which allowed him to tell stories and address feelings that could not be fully explored by photography alone.

Rather than take cues from his photographic contemporaries, Michals considers surrealist painters such as René Magritte, Balthus and Giorgio de Chirico to be his artistic heroes. Scratching out universal truths from the mystery of human experience, Michals has explained that his works are, “about questions, they are not about answers.” Over the decades, he has been at the forefront of exploring sexual identity and the struggles for gay rights. In his 1976 work, The Unfortunate Man, a model arches his back in anguish while the accompanying text reads: The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved. It was declared illegal by the law. Slowly his fingers became his toes and his hands gradually became feet. He wore shoes on his hands to disguise his pain. It never occurs to him to break the law.

One of the constants of Michals’ career – from his classic narrative sequences to his more recent series of hand-painted tintypes – has been his preference for intimately scaled images with tactile surface treatments. These works, with their universal themes of memory, dreams, desire and mortality, draw the viewer closer and insist on their full engagement at an emotional level. Commenting on why Michals includes handwritten text on his images, he has said: “I love the intimacy of the hand. It’s like listening to someone speaking.”

Press release from the PEM website

 

Duane Michals. 'Andy Warhol' 1972

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Andy Warhol
1972
© Duane Michals; The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Sting' 1982

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Sting
1982
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery and the artist

 

Duane Michals. 'The Great Photographers of My Time #2' 1991

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Great Photographers of My Time #2
1991
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'The Unfortunate Man' 1976

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Unfortunate Man
1976
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte at His Easel' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Magritte at His Easel
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text

 

Duane Michals. 'Georgette and Rene Magritte' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Georgette and Rene Magritte
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text

 

Duane Michals. 'Self Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday' 1972

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Self Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday
1972
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Primavera' 1984

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Primavera
1984
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

 

Duane Michals. From the series 'The House I Once Called Home' 2002

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
From the series The House I Once Called Home
2002
Thirty gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Randy Duchaine. 'Duane Michals, portrait with red nose' 2015

 

Randy Duchaine
Duane Michals, portrait with red nose
2015
Photo courtesy of Randy Duchaine

 

 

Real Dreams

by Duane Michals

Nothing is what I once thought it was. You are not what you think you are. You are nothing you can imagine.
I am a short story writer. Most often photographers are reporters. I am an orange.
They are apples.
One of the biggest cliches in photography is to say that he is a personal photographer.
We must touch each other to stay human. Touch is the only thing that can save us.
I use photography to help me explain my experiences to myself.
Some photographers literally shoot everything that moves, hoping somehow, in all that confusion to discover a photograph. The difference between the artist and the amateur is a sense of control. There is a great power in knowing exactly what you are doing, even when you don’t know.
We are all stars. We just don’t know it.
I practice being Duane Michals everyday – that’s all I know.
Most portraits are lies. People are rarely what they appear to be, especially in front of a camera. You might know me your entire lifetime and never reveal yourself to me. To interpret wrinkles as character is insult not insight.
Was there ever a 1956? What did I do in June 1971? What happened in 1956? I think that there was 1932.
The history of photography has not been written. You will write it. No one has photographed a nude until you have. No one has photographed a sequence or green pepper till you have. Nothing has been done until you do it.
There are no answers anymore.
Get (Edward) Weston off your back, forget (Diane) Arbus, (Robert) Frank, (Ansel) Adams, (Clarence) White, don’t look at photographs. Kill the Buddha.
I am my own hero.
Photography books have titles like “The Photographer’s Eye” or “The Vision of So and So” or “Seeing Photographers” – as if photographers didn’t have minds, only eyes.
Everything is going; yes, even you must go. Right now you are going. Right now!
I find myself talking to photographs. I see a photograph of a women and I ask, “Is that all you’re going to tell me?” I can see the long hair and costume. Is she a witch, a mother, kind, consuming? Does she believe anything? I want more.
As I write this, at this moment, thousands of people are dying, thousands are being born, the earth is totally alive with Spring lust, stars are exploding – my God!
It is the great unknowing that we all live in, that we call life, that I find overwhelming. And I think that I will never know, never.
I am the limits of my work. You are the limits of yours. This is a journey. We do not live here. When I say “I,” I mean We.
As soon as I say “now,” it becomes “then.”
It is very easy for photographers to fake. Just go out and photograph twenty Pizza Huts.
That’s all there is, change.
Some influences open doors and liberate, other influences close doors and suffocate.
Photography, particularly, is suffocating.
I believe in the imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.

Photographers tell me what I already know. The recognition of the beautiful, bizarre, or boring (the three photographic B’s) is not the problem. You would have to be a refrigerator not to be moved by the beauty of Yosemite. The problem is to deal with one’s total experience, emotionally as well as visually. Photographers should tell me what I don’t know.
I find the limitations of still photography enormous. One must redefine photography, as it is necessary to redefine one’s life in terms of one’s own needs. Each generation should redefine the language and all its experiences in terms of itself.
The key word is expression – not photography, not painting, not writing. You are the event, not your parents, friends, gurus. Only you can teach yourself.
Everything we experience is in our mind. It is all mind. What you are reading now, hearing now, feeling now…
We’re all afraid of dying. We’ve already died. Look at your high school graduation picture, she’s dead! Just now, you died.
It is essential for me to be silly. If one is serious, one must also be foolish, to survive.
Trying to communicate one true feeling on my own terms is a constant problem.
I am compulsive in my preoccupation with death. In some way I am preparing myself for my own death. Yet if someone would put a gun to my stomach, I would pee my pants. All my metaphysical speculations would get wet.
When you look at my photographs, you are looking at my thoughts.
I am very attracted to the person of Stefan Mihal. He is the man I never became. We are complete opposites, although we were born at the same moment. If we should meet, we would explode. We are like matter and anti-matter. He is my shadow. I saved myself from him.
I only photograph what I know about, my life, I do not presume to know who blacks are or what they feel or bored suburban families or transvestites. And I never believe photographs of them staring into a camera.
I take nothing for granted. I can count on nothing. I am not sure where I once was certain. I don’t know what will be left by the time I’m fifty. That’s ok.
The sight of these words on a page pleases me. It’s like some sort of trail I’ve left behind, clues, strange marks made, that prove I was once here.
When I was about 9 ( the year my brother Tim was born), I would sit on the edge of my bed and be very still, long after the family had gone to sleep. I would try to find the “I” of “me.” I thought that if I would be very quiet, I might find that place inside that was “I.” I am still looking.
We are all a mental construction. Change our chemistry, our point of reference and reality changes.
I am a professional photographer and a spiritual dilettante: I would prefer to be a professional mystic and a dilettante photographer.
I remember the first time I sensed being lonely. I was about five at the time, living with my grandmother, and my best friend Art went away with his family. The afternoon loomed long and empty. I missed someone, I was empty. There was a lacking.
Only I am my enemy. My fear can stop me.
Never try to be an artist. Just do your work and if the work is true, it will become art.
“We must pay attention so as not to be deceived by the familiar.”
Things are what we will them to become.
It is important to stay vulnerable. To permit pain, to make mistakes, not to be intimidated by touching. Mistakes are very important, if we’re alert.
None of my photographs would have existed without my inventing them. These are not accidental encounters, witnessed on the street. I am responsible whether (Henri Cartier-) Bresson was there or not, those people would have had their picnic along the Seine. They were historical events.

There is not one photography. There is no photography. The only value judgment is the work itself. Does it move, touch, fill me?
Any one who defines photography frightens me. They are photo-fascists, the limiters.
They know! We must struggle to free ourselves constantly, not only from ourselves but especially from those who know.
It seems I am waiting for something to happen: and when it does, it will be difficult for me to imagine that I had ever been the person who is writing this. I will be someone else.
I am not interested in the perfect print. I am interested in a perfect idea. Perfect ideas survive bad prints and cheap reproductions. They can change our lives.
(If Duane wants to take pictures, he should do a study of laborers and farm workers and unwed mothers and make some social changes. Do something else – something noble. That’s what I’d do. – Stefan Mihal)
We have a way of making the most extraordinary experiences ordinary. We actually work at destroying miracles.
The best artists give themselves in their work. (Rene) Magritte was a gift, (Eugene) Atget, (Thomas) Eakins, (Odilon) Redon, (Bill) Brandt, (August) Sander(s), Balthus, (Giorgio) De Chirico, (Walt) Whitman, Cavafy. That’s all that there is to give. I am my gift to you, and you are your gift to me.
Most photographers photograph other people’s lives, seldom their own.
We must free ourselves to become what we are.
Photography describes to well.
Our parents protect us from death. But when they die, there is no one to stand between us and death.
I once thought that time was horizontal, and if I looked straight ahead, I could see next Thursday. Now I think it is vertical and diagonal and perpendicular. It’s all very confusing.
People believe in the reality of photographs, but not in the reality of paintings. That gives photographers an enormous advantage. Unfortunately, photographers also believe in the reality of photographs.
The most important sentences usually contain two words: I want, I love, I’m sorry, please forgive, please touch, I need, I care, thank you.
Everything is subject for photography, especially the difficult things of our lives: anxiety, childhood hurts, lust, nightmares. The things that cannot be seen are the most significant. They cannot be photographed, only suggested.
I would like to talk to William Blake and Thomas Eakins.

Duane Michals June 20, 1976 September 1, 1976

 

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

Duane Michals. 'Madame Schrödinger's Cat' 1998

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Madame Schrödinger’s Cat
1998
From the series Quantum
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

 

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Paradise Regained
1968
Courtesy of the artis
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

“Everything I did grew out of my frustration with the medium, the silence of the still picture,” he says, so he found the “wiggle room.” With sequences, he could add drama before and after the decisive moment. Having his subjects move created ethereal images and an awareness of time’s passage. Layering negatives challenged preconceptions.

Language, Michals says, has always been associated with photographs. A newspaper caption might tell you that 20 inches of snow fell on Boston or Vladimir Putin arrived by plane at the Olympics. “I write about what cannot be seen,” he says. “My text picks up where the photograph fails. This Photograph is my Proof, a “nice picture” of his cousin and new bride at Michals’ grandmother’s house, is metaphorically “out of focus” until Michals adds the text.

Michals uses a pen nib and ink to enhance his visual stories, writing in cursive or all capitals depending on his mood. “I like the handwriting, the texture.” He also collects original manuscripts. He describes himself as an intimist, a lover of diaries, books (he has three libraries at home in New York City), small pictures and intimacy. “My photographs whisper into the viewers’ eyes rather than shout. They say, ‘Come closer. I’ll tell you a secret.'”

Michals says he’s taken many professional risks, especially when presenting issues born of the gay community like isolation and illegal behaviour. “Remember, 20 or 30 years ago, marriage wasn’t even on the table,” he says. (Michals and Fred Gorrée, his partner of nearly 56 years, married in 2011, just days after same-sex marriage was legalised in New York.)

Unlike Robert Mapplethorpe, whom he says is more hardcore, Michals tends toward sentimentality and the legitimacy of the love between people of the same gender. “I’m not a typical gay person any more than I’m a typical person or photographer.”

That disdain for following established paths might explain why Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson are not among his heroes. “My sources for inspiration were anybody who contradicted my mind and opened my imagination,” Michals says, like Lewis Carroll, Magritte, Joseph Cornell and surrealists in general. “Ansel Adams did not open my imagination. He dealt with Yosemite and sunsets. I was interested in metaphysical ideas, what happens when you die.”

Extract from Lisa Kosan. “Meet Duane Michals,”on the PEM website 2nd March 2015 [Online] Cited 08/06/2015. No longer available online.

 

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

Duane Michals. 'Who is Sidney Sherman?' 2000

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Who is Sidney Sherman?
2000
© Duane Michals
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

 

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East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970-3783 USA
Phone: 978-745-9500, 866-745-1876

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Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

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30
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 1st November 2014 – 16th February 2015

 

Duane Michals. 'A Letter from My Father' 1960/1975

 

Duane Michals
A Letter from My Father
1960/1975
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

 

Exposing your/self

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Viva Michals! Viva Michals!

Magician, poet, storyteller, philosopher and dreamer.

Not for him the overblown statement (huge prints the size of billboards) but small, dark, rough prints assembled in photo-sequences, often incorporating text, that examine the human condition in every aspect. This is emotional work and Michals has a unique style and voice as an artist. You always know that you are looking at a sequence by Michals, for his signature is that distinctive.

As he says, his work goes beyond description, beyond surfaces, to reveal the subject – not as it looks but as it feels. In his sequences he usually achieves this by posing a question that has no answer, a question that is like a Zen koan…. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The grandfather ascends smilingly to heaven with little wings on his back as the child waves goodbye (if youth knew, if age could); the man as human condition turns into a galaxy; and the spirit leaves the body as it was left before.

Various Michals sequences, such as The Spirit Leaves The Body (1968, below), have a circular construction. Another sequence, Things are Queer (1973, below) is also a circular spatio-temporal enigma where instead of moving forward, the camera and the viewer are pulled backwards in a space-time continuum… where Michals forces you to question what reality really is. These two sequences are my personal favourites, and I had to scour the internet to find images for them as you rarely see them online.

His most famous sequence, the one that you see most often, is Chance Meeting (1970, below) – again an open-ended, intimate but puzzling encounter with a reflection of the self. Michals sequences are full of ghosts, uncommon intimacies, nubile females and delicious males (Michals is gay and has just celebrated his 54th anniversary with his partner). Dealing “with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time” his work peers inward to examine “his own thoughts and dreams, to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.”

All is not sunshine and light, and I feel that there is a nebulous, obsidian energy hovering not too far below the surface. The photographs have high contrast and the subjects are very closely framed, giving the sequences an almost claustrophobic quality, as though you are having the life, the energy gently yet forcibly manipulated around you. The photographs rarely breathe freely and you feel as though you are almost trapped within their spaces.

Then there is the text. Never used to excess in the sequences (the title does that job alone), the singular images are extended into a longer narrative by biting, poignant words – sentences that utter harsh truths and tell it how it really is. I can’t look at the image and read that text from A Letter from My Father (1960 / 1975, above) without thinking of my abusive father and wondering what happened to his love – whether he hadn’t hidden it, he just didn’t have any to start with. For any child inside an adult who has been abused, the image cuts to the bone.

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Michals staged, narrative scenes take us on a journey into his reality, one which “has entered a realm beyond observation.” He poses difficult questions that force us to examine ideas beyond the world of phenomena, beyond the world of surfaces. He challenges our repressed inner lives and our idealised image of ourselves, disturbing the boundaries of personality, ego, and identity.1 He wrestles with Sartre’s noumenal world (the world of the subconscious, dreams), the “being-in-itself” or sometimes simply “the in-itself,” as Sartre calls it (what Kant called the noumenal world), where Sartre does not see man comfortably installed in the world.

“All of us, says Sartre, have a “pre-ontological comprehension” of being-in-itself, that is to say, an opaque, inarticulate, but very real sense of its presence and nature. The world is but a “varnish” on the surface of the being-in-itself; or, changing the metaphor, the world is but a “thin crust” of meaning which we impose upon being-in-itself. Ordinarily this thin crust of meaning conceals the in-itself and obscures our awareness of it, but the anguish of being is always there just below the surface of daily consciousness, and from time to time it breaks through to the surface, presenting being-in-itself without disguise.”2

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This is what Michals attunes himself to, an examination of the in-itself, one that impacts on our internal poetic understandings of space and time. In his malleable daydreams Michals proffers a ‘releasement toward things’, the glimpsing of a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which enables the seeing of the ‘Thing Itself’. As Heidegger observes, 

“We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

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It is Michals great skill as an artist and a human being that enables us the possibility of accessing some aspect of the mystery of our existence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. As discussed in Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, p. 405-406
  2. Olsen, Robert. An Introduction to Existentialism. Dover Publications, New York, 1962, p. 39
  3. Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56 quoted in Baracco, Mauro. “Completed Yet Unconcluded: The Poetic Resistance of Some Melbourne Architecture,” in van Schaik, Leon (ed.,). Architectural Design Vol. 72, No. 2 (‘Poetics in Architecture’). London: John Wiley and Sons, 2002, p. 74. Footnote 6.

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Many thankx to the Carnegie Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Who gives a fuck about what he had for breakfast? These are stylistic ticks. The digital has changed the paradigms of photography. I had an opening in Boston and this woman had a little camera with her and kept exclaiming, ‘Everything is a photograph!’ That’s the problem. The bar has been lowered so much in photography now…”

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“Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we’re going to go on forever just photographing more faces and more rooms and more places. Photography has to transcend description. It has to go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel?”

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“I don’t trust reality. So all of the writing on and painting on the photographs is born out of the frustration to express what you do not see.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker' 2004

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker
2004
12 Gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
5″ x 7″ each

 

 

This series of photographs was inspired by the poem The Windows by Constantine Cavafy:

In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,

I wander round and round trying to find the windows.

But the windows are not to be found – 
or at least I can’t find them.
And perhaps
it is better that way.

Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.

Who knows what new things it will expose?

 

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Chance Meeting
1970
Six gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Things are Queer
1973
Nine gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Grandpa Goes to Heaven
1989
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC

 

 

“The best part of us is not what we see, it’s what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at… We’re not our eyeballs, we’re our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they’re totally wrong… That’s why I consider most photographs extremely boring – just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colours have been added to protect the innocent. It’s just boring. But that whole arena of one’s experience – grief, loneliness – how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see. It’s all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting in my room. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

.
Duane Michals

 

 

Opening November 1, 2014, at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is the definitive retrospective and the largest-ever presentation of this innovative artist’s work. Drawing from select loans and the museum’s holdings, which constitute the largest single collection of Michals’s output, and spanning six decades, the works in Storyteller include classic sequences from the early 1970s as well as rarely seen images from later in his career.

Born in 1932 and raised in a steelworker family in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Michals broke away from established traditions of documentary and fine art photography in the 1960s when he added handwritten messages and poems to prints, produced multi-image narrative sequences, and experimented with double- and triple-exposures. His work was poignant and unabashedly sentimental, flying in the face of the dominant photographic aesthetics of the time.

Storyteller unfolds in thematic groupings that range from portraiture to meditations on the mind’s interior world; from childhood and imagination to desire and death. Michals’s love of two very different cities, Pittsburgh and Paris, is evident in sections exploring the beauty, quirks, and particularities of these places. He has riffed on, critiqued, and crossed paths with countless artists, including René Magritte, Cindy Sherman, Joseph Cornell, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Andy Warhol, and others, and a section of the exhibition brings to light the admiration and acerbic wit in Michals’s engagements with other creative minds.

“The exhibition is designed to acquaint the visitor with the many themes that Michals explored over more than half a century,” says curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones. “Well known sequences such as Paradise Regained and Chance Meeting greet the viewer first, followed by engaging and sometimes surprising Children’s Stories. A section called The Mind’s Eye shows Michals’s absorption with photographing things that cannot actually be seen, such as A Man Going to Heaven or The Human Condition. We could not present Storyteller chronologically, because Michals revisits themes often. One theme, Painted Expression, shows how, in two distinct periods of his life – in the early 1980s and again in 2012 – Michals has picked up a brush to apply oil paint to both black-and-white photographic prints as well as most recently to 19th century tintypes, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind photographic works. His creative energy is boundless and readily apparent when seen in a large retrospective display.”

“I’m a storyteller,” he often states as he begins a talk in public – equally interested in the moments before and after the “decisive moment” (a term coined by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson). “When I began to do sequences, it wasn’t because I thought it was cool and the latest thing. I did it out of frustration with the still photograph.” He has observed that his practice aims to transcend mere appearances: “I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like… My reality has entered a realm beyond observation.” This approach can be seen throughout his career, from early, carefully staged sequences, to hand-painted gelatin silver prints and tintypes, revealing the artist’s hand at work long after the image is captured.

According to curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones, who organised Storyteller, “Duane Michals is a sensitive and provocative artist who has followed his own unique path. His way of staging narrative scenes, then recording them with a 35mm camera, represented a fresh approach to the medium. This, combined with an uncommon intimacy when dealing with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time, set him apart as an image-maker.”

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

CMOA, a fixture in Michals’s artistic upbringing, has acquired 139 of his works, ranging from his earliest images made in Russia in 1958 to hand-painted tintypes that he began creating in 2012. Michals, in turn, has always felt an attachment to Pittsburgh, a subject of many of his photographs, and of two books, the sequence The House I Once Called Home (2003) and poetry collection A Pittsburgh Poem (2013). Lending institutions to Storyteller include Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), Musée des Beaux Arts (Montreal), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and Museum of Modern Art (New York). Even longtime admirers of the artist may be unfamiliar with several of his bodies of work, and an examination of this full range is long overdue: while Michals has been championed in several solo exhibitions throughout Europe in the past decade, this is his first major museum exhibition in North America since 1998.

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

Presented alongside Storyteller will be the exhibition Duane Michals: Collector, which highlights works from Michals’s private art collection that are promised gifts to the museum. The eclectic array of objects, ranging from 1799 to 1999, and from Francisco de Goya to André Kertész to Mark Tansey, will be united by Michals’s unique take on the artists, the artworks, and their influence on his own practice. Organised by associate curator of fine arts Amanda Zehnder, Duane Michals: Collector will further contextualise his work from an unusually personal perspective.

Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals represents a refreshing, much-needed reexamination of a historically significant photographer. Michals’s pioneering photography infused the medium with a personal, critical approach that translates universally. In an art world that feels at times jaded and detached, his images retain the same moving, affecting impact that they commanded decades ago.

Press release from the Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

Internationally-renowned photographer Duane Michals discusses his eight-decade life and career as a self-described “expressionist.” His work is known for its innovative narrative sequencing and iconic use of text and image. During a period when photography looked out to the world around us, Michals redefined the medium by peering inward to his own thoughts and dreams to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.

 

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Spirit Leaves The Body
1968
Seven gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Young Girl’s Dream
1969
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Magritte with Hat
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965 (detail)

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Magritte with Hat (detail)
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'This Photograph Is My Proof' 1967

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
This Photograph Is My Proof
1967
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads' 1995

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads
1995
From the series Salute, Walt Whitman
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Duane Michals. 'The Human Condition' 1969

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Human Condition
1969
Six gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Rigamarole' 2012

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Rigamarole
2012
Tintype with oil paint
The William T. Hillman Fund for Photography
Carnegie Museum of Art,Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

 

Carnegie Museum of Art
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Opening hours:
Monday: 10am – 5pm
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 10am – 5pm
Thursday: 10am – 8pm
Friday: 10am – 5pm
Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday: noon – 5pm

Carnegie Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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