Issue No. 18 - Humanity

Book Review: ABCDuane by Duane Michals

Book Review: ABCDuane by Duane Michals

Image above: Duane Michals, Voltaire, 2013; Duane Michals, Andy Warhol, 1980 © Duane Michals

  In the early twentieth century, the United States fled from the despotism that had stunted its nation. World War I, followed by The Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War, saw the occurrence of a state of flux – individuals gravitated towards freedom of expression and began to examine human thought, and speculation, which illustrated the changing times.

No longer lingering in the shadows of European culture, the alchemy of America’s oscillating society began to cultivate some of the world’s most influential artists. Designers, painters, musicians, sculptors and writers started to emerge from the pockets of a disillusioned society. Duane Michals was one such artist.

Michals is known for his visual storytelling, and often displays a series of images, layered by multiple exposures and text. In his recent book, ABCDuane, published by Monacelli Press, he draws on his unique technique to weave an alphabetically categorized narrative of unseen images and works from his personal collection.

From the novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett, to sculptor Marcel Duchamp, illustrator Saul Steinberg and artist Andy Warhol, Michal embraces the distinctive qualities that make these artists extraordinary. He also captures themes, like burlesque in Pittsburgh, and philosophical ideas, such as the act of falling in love.

“Taking photographs and writing is my way of saying I was here, I saw this, I felt this, I heard this” Michals explains in the Introduction, “[It is a way of saying] It happened.”


Duane Michals, photographs from the series Empty New York, 1964 © Duane Michals

ABCDuane exposes the condensations of Michals imagination. He mixes the metaphorical with the real, and with each photograph, he transforms himself into the essence of existence itself. These images are elliptical and the layout of the book portrays linear actions that dissolve into random events.

Riddled with painted tintypes, image sequences and text, it is Michals’ standalone portraits that highlight his remarkably attentive eye. In 1968, Michals photographed Truman Capote, languidly posed, and concealed by a heavy coat, black sunglasses and hat. Despite Capote’s intention of camouflage, his eyes peer playfully over his sunglasses, as if to say, “I recognise you, I see you, and as a result, now you see me”.

Michals was born in 1932, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania; a sleepy town burdened by the closure of the National Tube Works and G.C. Murphy. In an interview earlier this year, with Siobhan Bohnacker, Michal reflected, “I don’t know how a person could be so nutty about one place, but I’m just crazy about Pittsburgh. I consider it my spiritual home…”

In the 1940’s, this town flourished. Now, however, the population has decreased by half, and of the remaining residents, approximately 23% live below the poverty line. The decay of McKeesport is a microcosm of what happened to the greater United States, and it is this history, and its requiem, that flourishes through the pages of ABCDuane.

On the 21st of November, there will be a book signing at the International Center of Photograph for Duane Michals’ ABCDuane and Storyteller. Additionally, there is currently a retrospective of Michals’ work at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, which will end February 16, 2015.

By Kyla Woods

118 Rene Magritte-s
118 Rene Magritte-s

Duane Michals, René Magritte, 1965 © Duane Michals

44 With Giorgio de Chirico-s
44 With Giorgio de Chirico-s

Duane Michals, With Giorgio de Chirico, 1976 © Duane Michals

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