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Duane Michals (1932-)

“Trust that little voice in your head that says "Wouldn't it be interesting if....'' And then do it.”
-Duane Michals

Duane Michals was born in 1932 and grew up in Mckeesport, Pennsylvania. His father was a steel worker and his mother was a homemaker. His interest in art began at age 14, when he began taking watercolor classes at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. He went on to received a B.A. from the University of Denver in 1953, and while he decided not to pursue a fine-arts career at that time, he developed a keen interest in the work of other artists, particularly the work of the Surrealist painters. In 1956, he went on to enroll in the Parsons School of Design, with goals of becoming a graphic designer. He eventually dropped out, however, to take various jobs in the publishing field.  It wasn’t until Michals borrowed a camera from a friend on a trip to Russia that he first realized his passion for photography. He took austerely elegant portraits of the people he encountered during his travels abroad which led to his first public exhibition five years later. He soon realized that his success in photography was founded on the notion that he wasn’t a trained photographer. As Michals continued to embrace the medium of photography, he gradually began to make a name for himself both commercially and artistically.  In 1961, Michals begins working as a commercial photographer for Esquire, Mademoiselle, and Vogue magazines. In 1968, he was hired by the Mexican government to photograph the Olympics. He produced photographs for the covers of a variety of magazines including Life. He did the photography for the Synchronicity album for The Police and he worked on advertising campaigns for various companies including Elizabeth Arden, and Revlon. In terms of his artistic work, it wasn't readily accepted at the beginning...but that did not faze him. "If I was concerned about being accepted, I would have been doing Ansel Adams lookalikes, because that was easily accepted. Everything I did was never accepted...but luckily for me, my interest in the subject and my passion for the subject took me to the point that I wasn't wounded by that, and eventually, people came around to me."  Two major aspects that Michals developed in his artistic work were the use of sequential imagery and the integration of text into his work by the simple device of writing on his photographs - mainly in the borders.  He uses his skills as a poet and story teller, alongside his philosophical beliefs and ideas, creatively placed with his photography to create surreal worlds of creative contemplation.


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