Saturday, August 13, 2016

Duane Michals and the State of Photography

The GROUND #05

Duane Michals has been on my radar for some time. I wouldn't call him a direct influence, as my work is neither sequential nor typically in black and white, but there's something about his many small series that instill in me a strange sense of nostalgia. 

Nearly a year ago, I was in Manhattan searching for international fashion magazines for my boss and I came across the fifth volume of a hardcover periodical called The GROUND. Michals' image of Andy Warhol was on the cover, and having personally spent [way too much] time researching and writing about the pop artist in college, I picked up the magazine immediately. Michals was interviewed about his place in the world of photography, and the quote in the image above struck a chord with me:

"Photography will end up being a cul-de-sac unless it expands the definition of what a photograph is."

I read a lot of photography criticism, though mostly written by those who are long dead, in dusty, out of print books, so it was refreshing to hear a living photographer's point of view. And he's absolutely correct; while I do believe that the boundaries of photography are always being pushed, at some point everything will have been attempted and we photographers will need to take a step back and reevaluate what it is we're creating. 

Michals goes on:

"All photography will end up being selfies. Because there is no other dimension than the reflection of the ego. I never understood why. I am having trouble with photography, most photography … as long as photography remains describing exterior events… as long as photography is telling me what I already know, I do not care about it."

In a world saturated by images, thanks to the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media, it's hard to see the value of a photograph. We're bombarded at every turn with imagery, a sad truth for those of us who spent time and money to be professionally trained in the medium, only to graduate into an industry where a proper degree doesn't seem to matter. In the end, what does it take to stand out?

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