Duane Michals Essay

The artist does not revolutionise the practice of photography, but he revisits it in order to render it at once personal and also universal.

Photography is handled here as an aesthetic paradigm which allows us to perceive a touch of irony and the suspicion of a critical look at current society.

These series question our existence and daily lives in an abstract way.

Influenced by the poetry of the surrealist movement and its play on pictures and words (highlighting the importance of Henri Magritte), by metaphysical painting (Giorgio de Chirico and Balthus), conceptual photographers (Victor Burgin and Dan Graham) or again by the sequential style (Christian Boltanski), Duane Michals is in an intellectual and artistic milieu which aims to represent a constructed and comprised reality from several elements in a sequential form.

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Against all expectations, it is astonishing to see that it is precisely in photography, the daughter of technique, that an image can find its “magic value”.

Through these overwhelming documentary images, Michals makes us feel what he feels, allows us to experience what he has experienced and to hear what he has heard.

Can photography speak for itself or does it need writing to reinforce its arguments and to be heard?

‘In a way, I’ve always been at war with what the still photograph did,” says Duane Michals from a wicker chair in the basement office of his New York town house.

At 81, he has been fighting that war for a long time—since 1958, when he took a borrowed camera to Russia as a tourist and fell in love with photography, bringing back images that began his commercial and fine-art career.


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