29 October 2009

Addicted: Duane Michals.

I am completely addicted to this man and his work. And I am particularly, as of late, addicted to this photograph.

Duane Michals.

Duane Michals is a photographer and a writer. Since the beginning of his photographic career in the early 1960s, Michals has been committed to his personal ambitions and in the process has redefined the medium for himself. Lacking in any formal training, Michals allowed himself to explore photography on his own terms, and resisted the conventional work at the time from photographers such as Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and William Eggleston.

For Duane Michals, it is not enough to see a photograph. In contrast to a photographer like Elliot Erwitt, who believes that photography is not about thinking but about discovering - that "thinking is bad for taking pictures," [1] Michals believes that photography has everything to do with what is in the mind, not what is seen with the eyes; as Michals says, "the way [he] viewed life was really quite different than looking at life" [2].

With his photographs, Duane Michals attempts to communicate more than visual observation. His interests lie less in the visual appearance of an object or of an action and more in the feeling or motives behind it. His curiosities extend to topics such as desire, time, youth, loss, and death. His work more often than not expands passed the single image and utilizes sequences to fully construct his ideas.

Though it can be said that Michals is more well known for his sequential imagery, subject mater varying from heavy concepts to light, witty satire, he was also fruitful in his production of single images. A reoccurring theme in Michals' work is that of loss. These images are imbued with a sense of nostalgia and yearning. One such image is Michal's This Photograph is My Proof. In this photograph, Michals confronts the viewer with an image of one man and one woman, sitting beside one another on a bed, her arms wrapped around him, with the following handwritten text: "This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen. She did love me. Look, see for yourself!" Michals is using the photographic medium to document an event which is to be taken for reality (although it would not be inaccurate to say that Michals is more well known for his less straight forward works). The piece hits the viewer square in the chest with nostalgia. It is affective because the image has multiple layers. The photograph itself acts as a facade of happiness, while the message that Michals conveys is one of nostalgia, sadness, and doubt. I find this image and conjoining message to be deeply moving because it makes me think of myself in familiar circumstances; it takes me beyond just seeing the photograph and to actually feeling what those words mean. The text is almost desperate in its need to be believed. The last sentence, "Look, see for yourself!" is emphasized, expressing some need of validation, some way of solidifying the veracity of the once relationship. It seems to carry a sense of urgency. It seems haunted with doubt.

It is images like this that separate Duane Michals from the rest of the pack. As a person who draws as much inspiration from literature as I do from photography, I find his pairing of words and images to be terribly moving. He places the viewer in different positions: participant, observer, voyeur, and confidant. Questions of life (and afterlife) jump from his pages. It is with his work that Michals attempts to give access into his mind; Michals is pushing the viewer to consider the questions he proposes, questions he himself has about the world and his role in it.

If you are interested in learning more about Duane Michals and how he feels about his work, I would highly recommend watching the interview on pixchannel.com. There are many interviews with photographers such as Ruth Bernhard, Arnold Newman, Jerry Uelsmann, Elliot Erwitt, and more.