Duane Michals: Photographer, Storyteller

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IN DUANE MICHALS’ 1973 nine-image photographic sequence entitled “Things Are Queer,” the depicted objects and model (and a viewer’s perception of them) change scale increasingly with Magrittian surreality as the sequence is followed, but there appear to be no representations, indicators, or signifiers of anything that could be construed specifically as gay. Sometimes, however, looking at photographic images can be deceiving, which is an especially important fact to keep in mind when looking at the photographic art of Duane Michals.

As a seventy-year-old gay photographer whose art over the past 44 years has from time to time dealt with gay themes, Michals has been acknowledged internationally as an innovator in the medium. Represented in the permanent collections of over sixty major art museums and institutions, in over 22 states and in fifteen countries, Michals has had full-scale retrospective exhibitions mounted in Great Britain, France, and the U.S. France honored him in 1993 with his induction as an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, and just last year the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh announced the acquisition of his artistic archives.

From the mid-1960’s to the present, Duane Michals has created photographic art that is antitraditionalist. His early training did not include the formal study of photography or its techniques, so its rules never limited him. Relying instead on his intuitive creativity and expressive needs—albeit influenced by such Surrealist painters as Magritte, de Chirico, and Balthus, and by writers of magic realism and metaphysics—Michals reintroduced such photographic tricks and techniques as double exposure, blurring, and mirror image, at that time disdained by mainstream photographers.

Chance Meeting, 1970. Courtesy of the artist and Pace/Macgill gallery, NY.

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David B. Boyce, a freelance arts writer living in New Bedford, Mass., curated the Nov. 2002 exhibition, “Duane Michals Unlimited 1958-2002,” for the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

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