August 5, 2010

everything i ever needed to know about photography i learned from duane michals

Like Magritte, Duane Michals' work tweaks something in my brain. I've tried before to explain the response his work elicits in me. The best I can manage is that somehow when I look at his images it's as though discovery and primal recognition converge and I am immediately taken to my happiest of happy places.

(from "a visit with magritte"

Whenever I'm feeling adrift, I pull out my beloved copy of Sequences. It calms and anchors me again.

And when I'm seeking creative guidance, I re-read this incredible 1969 transcript of a discussion between Michals and a group of students at New York's MOMA. Some of my favourite excerpts below.

On spontaneity
"Why does it have to be spontaneous? Ah, you see you're operating under the point of view we've been functioning under the last 20 years and that's the Robert Frank, [Henri] Cartier-Bresson point of view. The reality or the truth of the street. "Something really is valid only when you catch the instant that the thing happens in front of your eyes," you know. You get locked under a question of "reality." That's one kind of reality, there, but you know reality is really a fantastic problem. I mean you really get into this with photography. My pictures are as valid, or may be even more valid, in their contrivedness; they have their own reality. It's two different points of view. But all I'm saying is that people should start considering this point of view as being as valid as the "truth of the street.''

On pretty pictures
"...the fact that you were there to respond to something—that's not enough. Also, when you look at it, it all depends on what you want out of your photographs. If you look at a photograph and you think, "My isn't that a beautiful photograph," and you go on to the next one. Or "Isn't that nice light?" so what! I mean what does it do to you or what's the real value in the long run? What do you walk away from it with? I mean I'd much rather show you a photograph that makes demands on you, that you might become involved in on your own terms or perplexed by. Or I'd much rather suggest something that explains something. I think that, so you see a picturesque picture of a lady standing on a corner with a grumpy face wrapped up in an American flag . . . well that's an interesting photograph; but two minutes later it's not an interesting photograph. Ah, where are all those private head images that are all sitting here at the table? You know, everybody's waiting for something outside to happen for them to record. You know, what's going on inside of you? Why are you ignoring yourself?"

On cameras
"I think photographers should use what a camera can do, like a painter uses what the paint can do. I mean cameras can blur, you can double expose, you can do all sorts of things technically with the camera. People don't use that on purpose, you know what I mean? And I think you should use all the things that people consider as mistakes or the negative aspects of the camera. I think you should keep yourself open and work with blur—you can do many beautiful things. Outside Ernest Haas, that sort of thing, but using it, not accidentally the way he did. Using it for your own means, to suggest a vague impression of an event. So I think people should use the camera as a machine. I hate cameras myself—I don't really like cameras. I'm not a camera buff; I'm not interested in cameras. I always feel like a writer "hung up" on his typewriter. The camera is just . . . like you should know your camera thoroughly and then you should forget about it completely. And it should not be a thing between you and the person or what you're doing."
There you have it - THE definitive master class if you ask me.

1 comment:

Fernanda said...

Congrats by the post! to me Michals is THE definitive too!! :)