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Duane Michals:


Duane Michals is a true innovator.

A poet, a philosopher, and a photographer, Michals has managed to merge his three muses into a single output for a highly distinct and original body of work. Poems and short stories are paired with his images, and photos are grouped together into a story-telling series. His photos are set-up and surreal, his writing is contemplative and philosophical, and in the end, Michals views on life and the world around him shine through.

Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1932, Michals grew up in a typical working class family. His father was a steel worker like so many other men in PA, and his mother did not have a salaried job - her job was raising the family. He became interested in photography at age 14 when he began taking Saturday afternoon watercolor classes at Carnegie institute in Pittsburgh.

In 1953, he received a B.A. from the University of Denver, and went on to enroll in the Parsons School of Design in 1956 with thoughts of becoming a graphic designer. However, this only lasted a year, and he eventually dropped out to take various jobs in the publishing field.

All the while, he maintained an interest in fine arts, with a high regard for surrealist artists such as Magritte and Balthus. In 1958, during a three week trip to Russia, Michals realized his passion for photography. He used a camera borrowed from a friend to take portraits of people he encountered during his travels. The work has been described as "plain, yet elegant," and led to Michals' first public exhibition.

Eleven years later, Michals was making his living through commercial shooting, despite the fact that he never owned a studio. "I prefer to photograph people in their environment," Michals said in his introduction to his book Album, a collection of his portraiture. "I hate studios. The things that people choose to spend their lives with gives us clues as to whom they are more than their hairline."

Michals proceeds to reveal a lot about his unique philosophy on portraiture in this essay. "Some photographers can be very presumptuous about 'capturing' another person with their cameras," he says. "My portraits in this book have revealed nothing profound about the subjects or captured anything. They were almost all strangers to me. How could I say anything about them when I never knew them? What I did was share a moment with them, and now I share that moment with you, no more and no less."

Michals clearly has a very refreshing, down-to-earth attitude about his work. In interviews, he has said "I was lucky because I never went to photography school and didn't learn the photography rules, and in not learning the rules, I was free. I always say, you're either defined by the medium or you redefine the medium in terms of your needs."

In terms of his artistic work, it wasn't readily accepted at the beginning...but that did not faze him. "If I was concerned about being accepted, I would have been doing Ansel Adams lookalikes, because that was easily accepted. Everything I did was never accepted...but luckily for me, my interest in the subject and my passion for the subject took me to the point that I wasn't wounded by that, and eventually, people came around to me."

Michals currently has more than 20 books in print, has had exhibitions in France, Great Britain, and the United States, and has won numerous awards.
-John Vettese

-Source: temple.edu

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