Saturday, February 18, 2012

Duane Michals - the hard work has been done before he picks up his camera

Duane Michals is a photographer whom I've always admired. Not just his photographs but the way he thinks. With his incredible sense of invention he relentlessly questions, himself and society. And it's quite clear that the hard work has been done before he picks up his camera.

He says this about his practice. Photographers walk around with a camera, looking for something that looks like a photograph, to take a picture of. I'm talking about reportage. The point I'm making is that what I did grew out of the need to express something, because what interested me was always life after death. My whole life is preparing myself for my death.
My inquiries, the way I view and question life, is all about the nature of life, but you can't examine the nature of life without wondering about the nature of death. It's yin and yang, you can't separate the one from the other. And, since we spend more time not being than we do being, then I find not being utterly fascinating. In a universe of three trillion million years, we spend 80 years alive, a nanosecond of breath which is our consciousness, and we spend this time unexamined. Most people are not even alive, they're on automatic, totally, with no consciousness of being.

It's the same with photographers. They look but they don't pay attention, and what they see is what they're told it's OK to see by critics or by official bona fide certifiers of photographs. But they're also examining somebody else's life, something they know nothing about. They hardly know anything about their own lives, and it's presumptuous for me to go to Harlem and photograph black people and pretend I know anything about them. But they only see in clichés. We live our lives in terms of clichés. We live very second-hand lives.You know what it's like? It's like reading a hundred love stories, and then falling in love. It's two different things, two different experiences. Photographers are artists reading love stories, they're always looking at other people's emotions, other people's passions without really knowing their own true passions, which is harder to do.

Steidl have just republished Michals 1982 artist's book A Visit with Magritte. Not surprisingly Magritte is an artist that Michals admires and 1965 he photographed the painter in his house in Belgium. Michals comments, "If I indulge myself and surrender to memory, I can still feel the knot of excitement that gripped me as I turned the corner into Rue Mimosas, looking for the house of Rene Magritte. It was August, 1965. I was thirty three years old and about to meet the man whose profound and witty surrealist paintings had contradicted my assumptions about photography."

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