Friday, September 26, 2008

More text + photo inspiration: Duane Michals

The first time I saw a Duane Michals photograph, I knew I was looking at something special. His work is so intimate, honest, and vulnerable that its own artistic self-effacement makes it stand out in the same way that a great acting performance makes you forget the actor.

Two years ago, profiled Michals in an article called "Underrated Photographers," so if you've never heard of him, you are not alone. Wiki him (Is "wiki" a verb yet?) and you might be inspired by his lack of formal training or his environmental portraiture back when everyone was doing studio work. In this post, I hope that his work will inspire you to try your hand (perhaps literally, as in hand-written) at the text + photo challenge during these last few days of September.

I stumbled upon a blog entry (a homework assignment?) by a photography student (I won't post the link) about Michals that contained a critique that said (I'm summarizing) "Whatever. I don't see what the big deal is." This had me fuming. Why do a post on Michals if your only purpose is to express indifference? (This is why I concluded that if must be a homework assignment, but if true, a bad one.) Incidentally, if you look at my profile, you will see that I love opinionated people. I just don't think that "whatever" qualifies as an opinion. It's just intellectual laziness.

End of rant. Back to Michals.

Look at this photo:

"Proof" as seen at Shane
The text (handwritten by Michals) reads, "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!"
How can that leave a person indifferent?

Michals hates the snobbery of the art world, but that doesn't stop his photographs from selling way out of my price range (but then, a postcard is out of my price range until I get paid next week). You can see 24 of his photographs for sale ("Sale," as in, "If you have to ask the price, don't bother.") on artnet.

Here are a few of those 24 that I like (screengrabs from Artnet—I'm sharing them based on my understanding of "fair use"):

The text reads "The cat, which may or may not be inside the box, wonders if Madame Schrödinger is or is not outside the box."

And another:
I won't pretend I have any idea what this poetic photo+text means, but I love how it combines the August "photo within a photo" challenge with the September "text + photo" challenge. Now how can I get Duane Michals to participate?

And finally:

When I first heard the Duane Michals was working in color I was shocked, but this little ode to the last rose of summer is stunning.

Many of Michals works use a series of photos along with text to tell a story. If you explore more of his works, you may find some themes or images for mature audiences, but nothing that is made merely to shock. I hope a look at his work will give you more ideas about the marriage of text and photography.