Duane Michals

(Mostly on art, with some gay interest.)

In the 2/19/15 issue of The New York Review of Books, an appreciation, “The Subtle Games of Duane Michals” by Jed Perl, on the occasion of two exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the publication of ABCDuane: A Duane Michals Primer by Michals.

(Meanwhile, I’ve evoked Michals in “Captioned Bookend 1”, here.)

From the Wikipedia entry:

Duane Michals (… born February 18, 1932) is an American photographer. Michals’s work makes innovative use of photo-sequences, often incorporating text to examine emotion and philosophy.

… Michals cites Balthus, William Blake, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Eakins, René Magritte, and Walt Whitman as influences on his art. In turn, he has influenced photographers such as David Levinthal and Francesca Woodman.

He is noted for two innovations in artistic photography developed in the 1960s and 1970s. First, he “[told] a story through a series of photos” as in his 1970 book Sequences. Second, he handwrote text near his photographs, thereby giving information that the image itself could not convey.

Three examples:



“Chance Meeting”


Michals came out in his 20s, and has lived with his male partner for over 50 years.

Now, from Perl’s article:

The photographer Duane Michals is a law unto himself. In a career spanning more than half a century he has worked in both utilitarian black-and-white and luxuriant color, produced slapstick self-portraits, evoked erotic daydreams, pamphleteered against art world fashions, and painted whimsical abstract designs on vintage photographs. You would be in for a disappointment if you expected a sober summing up in “Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals,” the big retrospective of the eighty-two-year-old artist’s career that is currently at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Michals remains aggressively idiosyncratic, the curator of his own overstuffed, beguiling, disorderly imagination.

… In ABCDuane, a book of autobiographical vignettes organized as an alphabet and published in time for the Pittsburgh show, Michals observes of his friendship with Andy Warhol, a Pittsburgh native, that “we had so much in common, coming from a similar background. We were both blue-collar kids, with a Slovak immigrant heritage and artistic inclinations.” [Not to mention their homosexuality.] Pittsburgh when Michals was coming of age in the 1940s was one of those tough, prosperous industrial cities where cultural life was seen as an essential element, something needed to balance and sanctify the rest.

… [Comparing Michals to Cocteau:] Admiration is essential to Michals’s enterprise (this was true of Cocteau as well). In a gallery adjacent to the Michals retrospective, the Carnegie is exhibiting a group of small works by Magritte, De Chirico, Balthus, Braque, Morandi, and other artists that are from Michals’s own collection and that he is donating to the museum. Over the years he has managed to visit and photograph a number of older artists whom he admires and clearly regards as inspirations, masters of the unexpected and enigmatic.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: