Duane Michals: Portraits is the photographers first comprehensive overview of more than a half-century of portrait photography.
For decades, Michals was a sought-after editorial photographer for leading magazines, shooting many of the major creative personalities of our time, like Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Tilda Swinton, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Norman Mailer, John Cheever and going back to René Magritte.
In the early 60s, Michals pioneered something called the photographic narrative sequence, using multiple images combined with text to create stories that were paradoxical, playful, and poetic. In one sequence, titled The Spirit Leaves The Body, from 1968 the image repeats in six frames the same naked figure lying on a bed in an empty room, a transparent silhouette rising out of it in the subsequent frames—sitting up, standing, and walking toward the camera—until the figure is left, again, inert and alone. A show of these early sequences, at MoMA in 1970, acknowledged him as the godfather of the form.
But Michals had to make a living, and he often worked on assignment for the major magazines of the time, making editorial portraits of notable figures.
The book includes many of these commercial pictures, as well as portraits of Michals’s friends and artistic heroes such as René Magritte, 1965, which uses double exposure to capture the artist in his signature bowler hat.
In the diptych Andy Warhol and His Mother, Julia Warhola, 1958, you can see the stirrings of Michals’s narrative tendencies: Warhol’s mother, with whom he lived his entire life, is seated in the foreground and Warhol is seated behind her: in the first frame, her image is crisp and Warhol’s is blurred; in the second, the focus is reversed.
In the book’s intro, Michals describes the frustration he often felt at the predictability of his portrait sessions with public figures:
“First the pleasantries. Hello, yes, nice, good times, do you like my hair? This is my preferred side.”
He’d wait patiently until, say, the subject sneezed.
“A reflex. A surprise! I’ve found the surprise, the metaphysical glance. I am delighted by its unexpected pureness.”
It would make a great holiday gift (hint, hint) You can get it here.
(Photos, Duane Michaels, courtesy D.C. Moore Gallery; via The New Yorker)