April 21, 2017

The Photography Department at the New York Film Academy recently hosted an evening with Duane Michals, one of the great photographic innovators of the last century widely known for his work with series, multiple exposures, and text.

NYFA NYC Photography Chair David Mager introduced the event, which included a selection of Michals’ still images and powerful seven-minute films as well as a discussion titled “Duane Michals: Photography and Reality.”

Michals quickly brought forth his sense of humor, and didn’t relent throughout the evening. “The best revenge is having a sense of humor,” he said. “This is your trip and you’re the alpha omega of your trip.”

Michals first made significant, creative strides in the field of photography during the 1960s. In an era heavily influenced by photojournalism, Michals manipulated the medium to communicate narratives. The sequences, for which he is widely known, appropriate cinema’s frame-by-frame format. Michals has also incorporated text as a key component in his works. Rather than serving a didactic or explanatory function, his handwritten text adds another dimension to the images’ meaning and gives voice to Michals’ singular musings, which are poetic, tragic, and humorous —often all at once.

Over the past five decades, Michals’ work has been exhibited in the United States and abroad. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, hosted Michals’ first solo exhibition (1970). More recently, he has had one-person shows at the Odakyu Museum, Tokyo (1999), and at the International Center of Photography, New York (2005). In 2008, Michals celebrated his 50th anniversary as a photographer with a retrospective exhibition at the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, Greece, and the Scavi Scaligeri in Verona, Italy.

“Being creative is when you don’t know what you’re going to do next,” Michals said to an audience of artists and photographers. “You have to invent your own life and follow your own instincts because you are your event.”

In 2015, Michals began expanding his work to seven-minute short films. He screened several of the films at NYFA’s theater, which varied in themes and often included Michaels himself in the leading role. The themes and genres of his shorts vary everywhere from comedy to the avant-garde.

Michals tries not to spend too much time on each project. In fact, he said he comes up with the idea with his small team on Monday, and has a finished product by that Friday.

As for the motivation and inspiration behind decades of work, Michals concluded, “I tend to mind my own mind, but I don’t mind my own business. I have an enormous curiosity.”