Duane Michals is a photography artist who has already had an influence upon me and my work during the first year of my photography degree. Two pieces of his work influenced my “Self-negotiated” assignment in which I documented the different states of emotion I go through when doing any given assignment on the said degree course. Of the two pieces I look at in that post, The Bogeyman is a piece of work that both sends a shiver down my spine (as a parent of two) whilst at the same time entertaining me and makes me appreciate the piece with its technically simplistic brilliance done in a graphic novel style.
Michals is said to have been innovative in two aspects of photography during the 1960s and ’70s. The very style of telling a story through a series of still images was new and unheard of in the 60s until Michals did it in a few of his bodies of work. The innovation within photography that he is credited with in the 1970s is to simply add text to images as a means of further explaining what the image is about. These notes were hand-written near to each image to help the viewer. I was under the impression that a good still image tells its own story and doesn’t require extra explanation. In fact, I’ve been led to believe that we, as photographers, want people to linger around our images looking at them for a time trying to piece together what they are trying to convey. Surely, to put text near the image does that work for the viewer if the image itself isn’t strong enough to do it for itself? This text then takes away ‘eyes-on’ time from your images?
The image below is from the work titled “Take One and See Mount Fujiyama”, which I also discuss in the “Self-negotiated assignment post.
The above image is just one taken from the Mount Fujiyama piece of work but shows Michals’ use of hand-written text to further explain to the viewer what is happening in the story. This is very much in a comic book style with the text outside the image instead of inside it within speech bubbles.
Another example of when Michals would use text to enhance his image is with the portrait of Sting, below.
Another thing Michals did during his time as a commercial photographer was to move away from having a studio and photographing people in portraits within that environment. Instead, he would keep things simpler (and cheaper) by photographing them in their own environments.
In the images above, I like how Michals has captured Andy Warhol at home with his mum and Meryl Streep under the bright lights. These to me say that Warhol is a bit of a mummies boy and Streep is a natural star under the bright lights of the movie world as I immediately thought that she’s outside a cinema with all the lights in the ceiling above, as they used to have back in the day. There’s also the large illuminated sign in the background on the opposite side of the image to the ceiling lights that add to the feeling on Tinseltown. I guess it helps that I know who they are but the thought that has gone into the locations for the images instead of simply shooting them as yet another studio shot is great. A lot of these portraits feature the subject posing themselves, which is another great way, in my opinion, that Michals took some of the workload off himself and put it into the subject’s hands. His reasoning behind letting his subjects pick their own poses was that he thought this helped establish their own personal identity.
Duane Michals is a gay man and many of his pieces of work are to do with sexuality. Another of his sequence pieces is titled “Chance Meeting” and was created in 1970.
To look at the sequence might not initially tell different people the same thing as to what is going on. I must admit that when I first saw this work I innocently assumed it was an old ’70s spy-themed story with the guy coming towards us looking for a suspect and not being entirely sure if the guy walking away from us was the guy he’s looking for.
We now know that the sequence shows two perfectly average-looking men passing on a side street and glancing at each other. It’s the hand on the chin that suggests a quizzical look but, apparently, this is more a look of gay desire, as is the look on the guy who was walking away from us who then stops and turns to look back at the other guy. The fact that the other guy has now disappeared out of shot suggests that his turning to look is a fraction too late which has resulted in a missed opportunity for both men.
Perhaps this is a piece of work by Duane Michals that I could have done with some hand-written text around the images.
As is the case with all the photographers I’m looking at over the summer break between the first and second years of my photography degree, Michals has done much more work than I have looked at here. The works I’ve picked out for this post are some of my favourites of his so far, but I’ll be sure to keep checking out what else he has done and, hopefully, learn from it and allow myself to be influenced by it.