Duane Michals has always been battling with himself about what affect does a still picture has, and thus he pushed his work beyond the boundaries of a single photograph. Initially he used progression of staged photos, however later he incorporated text to say what the picture lacked in saying. Michals was fond of stories, telling people about subjects and ideas that have been ignored in terms of photography from the 1960s and 1970s.
When he was fourteen, Michals developed fondness towards art while learning about watercolor in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Institute. In 1953, he did his Bachelor in Arts at the University of Denver. After three year, he went to Parsons School of Design to study graphic designing. Unfortunately he couldn’t complete his education there.
Michals believes himself to be a self-taught photographer. In 1958, while he was visiting the USSR, Michals discovered his curiosity and interest for photography. During this trip whatever he photographed was displayed in his first exposition in New York at the Underground Gallery in 1963.
For a while, Michals did commercial photography for Mademoiselle and Esquire and for Vogue magazine he photographically recorded the making of The Great Gatsby. Michals did not own a studio so he photographed people in their own environment unlike other photographers of that time, like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
The Mexican government hired Michals to cover the Summer Olympics of 1968. Two years later, his work was shown in MoMA. In 1976, the National Endowment for the Arts gave him a grant.
Michals’s work represents aspect of beauty, sex, religion, spirituality and death. In The Spirit Leaves the Body, 1968 a figure was exposed twice in order to show how the body leaves the supine positioned body. Michals feels that he dislikes a part of photography that only records facts. Thus, he tried to represent more than what’s on the surface.
Duane Michals has always experimented with photography and he kept expanding the range of tools. After playing around with writing, he began painting on photographs from the 1980s by adding objects to his photo prints. Michals brought the two ends of arts – photography and painting together in a unique and harmonizing manner.
For an exhibition at New York’s DC Moore Gallery, Michals turned his attention to melainotypes from 19th century. For the show, he collected 25 melainotypes.
For the portraits of people he made, Michals included bright graphic add-ons in oil, such as checkered, multicolor objects, polka dots and many other embellishments.
Moving on, homosexual themes can be seen in Michals’s work as well although he has never been a participant fighting for gay rights. He feels that if a person needs to be political about issues then he should leave his camera and do something.
For his artwork, Duane Michals gained influence from Lewis Caroll, René Magritte, William Blake, Balthus, Walt Whitman and Thomas Eakins. Apart from this, he has also made an influence on photographers, like Francesca Woodman and David Levinthal.
He is credited for the following artistic innovations in photography: 1) he tells stories using a sequence of images, 2) he wrote text on his images, and 3) he paints on photographs.
He had many other solo exhibitions in places like George Eastman House in Rochester, 1971; Odakyu Museum in Tokyo, 1999; International Center of Photography in NY, 2005; Thessaloniki Museum of Photography in Greece, 2008; and Scavi Scaligeri in Italy, 2008. Apart from this, he has participated in group shows as well.