Duane Michals

The Spirit Leaves The Body

Duane Michals was born in Pennsylvania in 1932. Michals found himself fascinated by art even in his youth which inspired him into taking classes in an art museum in his hometown. Michals then decided that he wanted to receive his own B.A. in Graphic Design at the University of Denver. Shortly after Michals completed his Degree he moved to New York. Michals carried on working in the Graphic Design field until his sudden interest in Photography transpired. This sudden change in Michals’ career began in 1958. It started when he travelled to the Soviet Union, Michals took documentary portraits of strangers on the streets, formally known as a “social landscape.” From there onwards Michals’ love for photography was ignited making a series corresponding to extensive sublimity. He held his first exhibition in 1963. Michals’ excelled in both Commercial and non-commercial photography.

Michals’ style was sequential imagery, a style conducting myths and enigma. The aim is to expand the creative process in order to condense all possibilities of photography. The expressive pathways Michals’ used over the years varied, this was due to the influencers he utilised ranging from: literary, philosophy and painters like René Magritte and Balthus. This had a direct impact on Michals’ work as some influences tackled death: memory, desire, gender and sexuality, these issues became paramount in much of Michals’ work. Many critics couldn’t understand Michals urge to ask so many questions and felt that not enough people ask questions or are curiously minded. Michals used an abundance of multiple exposures to summon an ethereal feel he typically staged scenes forming sequences that became a series leading into books, sometimes experimenting with text and drawings. Michals found that photography can be very limiting especially in the nature of the medium not expressing the vibrancy or evoking the full extent of the feeling. Michals found himself writing corresponding text for the viewer to reduce misinterpretation.

I can relate to this as I share this feeling, though photography conveys a certain amount of information it never completely or wholly displays the full extent it is predominantly due to the nature of the medium, therefore, you are provoked into capturing a series of images in order to get across everything you desire. I encountered an issue in the last unit as I wanted to include so much information. I found that with photography it’s very limiting as maintaining simplicity rules is essential and therefore not including text or metaphors in the work as they can be misinterpreted therefore ultimately losing much of the depth behind the work. I have found that by adding text, however, you are enhancing the story. I feel as too many pictures without text lose a personal interpretation and narrative and have therefore chosen to support my images with text and insightful explanations.

Michals photographed a man (Fred) with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease he was fascinated by all the incredibly strange things Fred would say. When Michals was making his work he started asking rhetorical questions one being “why do you think we are here?” but none of his assistants really ever answered but Fred replied, “to take care of each other”. Michals thought this was incredible. I personally find this exceptionally fascinating by the pure nature of how the brain changes from age and health. Michals’ was fascinated by these changes too because he believed when we are younger emotions are raw and more painful than when we’re old due to desensitisation. It’s a sublime beauty that Michals apparently looks into and captures the most. This raw emotion is something I would like to capture within my work. I feel that I’m of a similar nature and that I thoroughly enjoy looking at the sublime parts of life. The artist pays significant details to the subtleties in life. Michals pays particular attention to things that are usually lost and tries to incorporate this within his own work. The curiousness of the audience is embraced but never the reasoning behind why we are questioning is something that Michals does which is also something that I would like to incorporate in my work ethos.


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