Duane Michals (Pennsylvania, United States, 1932) is one of the exponents of photographic renewal because of his inclusion of manuscripts in his images and his approach to cinematic narration through the use of photographic sequences. Michals' interest for this media stems from a trip to the Soviet Union which would result in his first series of photographs, published in the Swiss magazine Du in 1964. From there onwards, the artist's work would affect his conception of photography as a failed attempt to show what he cares and is concerned about. His struggle against the invisibility of his objects of interest led him to build the scenes he would then photograph. His technique, far from all spontaneity, is conceived as a way to capture his thoughts, assuming that the distance between the processes of his conscious and the end result would always be compulsory.
Among his most direct influences are artists such as René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico and Balthus. The connection with metaphysical painting is set in the visual aspect of what passes to the background. Michals practices a deliberate exercise to further himself from a description of reality. His statement, "I never carry a camera with me, my camera is in my head," shows his interest in distancing himself from the photographic trend of being concerned about fidelity to the event. At the opposite end of photojournalism, Michals' work connects with artists such as Floris Michael Neusüss regarding the search for the idea, Joel-Peter Witkin (link to expo) in terms of theatricality or Christian Boltanski (link to expo) regarding the use of photographic sequences. The latter two artists were previously the subject of a solo exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía where Michals' work is now displayed in retrospect.
Seventy-five images make up the exhibition which is organised around four series taken between 1958 and 1996. The series Portraits consists of twenty-four photographs and focuses on entertainment and art. Under natural light, figures like Marcel Duchamp, Willem de Kooning, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Andy Warhol, François Truffaut, David Hockney and Jeanne Moreau are represented.
The series Self Portraits follows in which Michals models in eight photographs which include Self-Portrait As If I Were Dead (1968), Self-Portrait As Someone Else (1973) and Self-Portrait Shaking Hands with My Father (1973) among others. Following that is the series called Photo-texts, which the artist begins to develop in 1974 and which consists of eighteen images on which manuscripts are written. This technique allows Michals to delve into the meaning of the image.
Finally, the series Sequences is constructed based on a variable correlation of images that are grouped together to form a narrative. Among the fifteen exhibited sequences there a total of ninety-five small photographs, included among them are, The Fallen Angel (1968), The Bogeyman (1973), Grandpa Goes to Heaven (1992), Alice’s Mirror (1974) and Christ in New York (1981).
Together with these four series are some of the photo books designed by Michals which complete a global vision of the artist's work exhibited at the Museo Reina Sofía on the occasion of international photography festival PhotoEspaña 98.