Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan
Since the early 1960s Duane Michals has been known for photographic sequences and inscribed photographs that explore emotional, conceptual, and cosmic topics beyond the grasp of the lone camera image. Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in 1932, the elder son of a millwright and a salesclerk, he won a scholarship to attend the University of Denver. Having enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, after graduating in 1953 he served as a lieutenant in an armor unit in Germany for two years. He moved to New York City in 1956 to work for magazines and began photographing two years later on a trip to the Soviet Union, using a camera borrowed from a friend. In 1960 he met Fred Gorrée, an architect; for fifty-seven years they shared a home on East Nineteenth Street and a country house, and they married in 2011.
From the start Michals has kept his art free of financial pressure by pursuing a parallel career, photographing corporate ad campaigns, assignments for fashion magazines, and portraits of artists and celebrities. Since 2015, working with writer and director Josiah Cuneo and a small cast crew, Michals has created short films, that build on the comedic and contemplative themes of his photographs and writing.
Fred Gorrée died in the summer of 2017 after seven years with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A few weeks later Michals began working with the Morgan’s Richard L. Menschel Curator, Joel Smith, on an exhibition combining work from the Morgan’s collections. The following edited dialogue reflects conversations in front of artworks at Michals’s studio and the Morgan in the winter of 2019.