December 17th, 2014
Duane Michals at the Carnegie Museum
A new exhibition at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, aptly titled Storyteller, explores the whimsical and innovative photography of Duane Michals. In his fifty-year-long career, Michals has photographed celebrities, artists, writers, and everyday scenes—a stolen kiss, a grandfather’s deathbed—and infused them with a quality of wonder only made possible with the camera. The self-taught photographer’s career in commercial photography informed his sly, narrative style; he is now perhaps best-known for his original use of photo-sequencing to tell short photographic tales, first used in his 1970 book Sequences, as well as for his use of handwritten texts, which intimately adorn his images. His sequences present simple scenes of subtle magic: in unfolding sets of images, a man awakes a sleeping woman with a kiss, or a child watches his grandfather go to heaven (or, rather, an elderly man outfitted with angel wings progressively creeps toward a window, then disappears in the final shot).
In empathetic and often funny photographs, Michals’s portraits reveal his keen eye for both the personality and work of artists ranging from Joseph Cornell to Andy Warhol to René Magritte. His depictions often imagine these figures as they might realize their own artworks, while reflecting Michals’s idiosyncratic style: a smirking Magritte wears a bowler hat, his image overlaid with a double exposure of another hat; Joseph Cornell, hunched over against a window, appears as if he were a strip of paper sliced by light; and a preening, shirtless Sting stands alongside a skeleton (the caption reads, “STING LOOKING LIKE A YOUNG DANNY KAYE”). Michals’s portraiture goes beyond capturing resemblance, offering something more like a glimpse of the spirit of both sitter and subject—with an ample dose of humor and mutual understanding.
Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, through February 16, 2015.