Sidney Janis Gallery
Purchased by Akron Art Institute (Museum), 1978
2017: "Serial Intent" 6/3/17 - 9/10/17, Arnstein Galleries, Akron Art Museum
2013: Haslinger galleries 2/6/13 - 6/17/13, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "75th Anniversary Celebration" 9/25/97 - 2/1/98, Akron Art Museum
1994 - 1995: "Duane Michals: Myth and Modern Life, 10/22/94 - 4/23/95, Akron Art Museum
1993: "Colleagues and Contemporaries of Ralph Eugene Meatyard" 6/19/93 - 8/15/93, Akron Art Museum
1987: "On Time: Works from the Permanent Collection" 8/29/87 - 10/11/87, Akron Art Museum
3 3/8 x 5 1/8" ea. image; 5 x 7" ea. sheet
The Fallen Angel, 1968
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Duane Michals has been a leader in creating a new role for the photographer as fantasist, philosopher, and seer. He has been widely imitated for his use of sequential images to unfold a narrative tale and also for the use of handwritten texts to amplify photographic images. Now standard practices in the field, these techniques were anathema to the photographic community in the 1960s, when they first appeared in Michals's work.
Raised in a steelworking suburb of Pittsburgh, Michals took drawing lessons at the Carnegie Institute of Art and later attended college on a scholarship. After military service, he continued studying art in New York and worked as a graphic artist, taking his first photographs in 1958. Three years later he was earning a living as a photographer.
While most artists abandon commercial work after finding artistic success, Michals, who has been greatly influenced by Tibetan philosophy, feels that all experiences are valuable and continues to pursue both gallery exhibitions and advertising gigs. Preferring to use available light, he usually takes just a few shots to capture what he wants with a 35mm Nikon camera. Even on commercial assignments, he does not travel with a battery of lighting equipment.
Acceptance of photography's diverse uses has enriched Michals's work. In fact, his use of photographic sequences to tell a story may be regarded as an evolution of the photojournalistic essays in Life and Look magazines and of Robert Frank's seminal publication The Americans. Referring to newspapers, Michals points out: "Words have always been connected with photographs." Simple bias has evicted words from art photography for most of this century.1
The Fallen Angel is one of Michals's classic works. Its eight images are numbered, and the sequence is printed in identical formats. Their characteristic small size provides an appropriate intimacy for the highly personal subject matter and also accentuates a sense of voyeurism by allowing viewers to peer into another world. The first image bears the artist's familiar handwriting, block printing that suggests both childlike awkwardness and elderly vulnerability.
The sequence has elements of an erotic fantasy and is a fable on the loss of virginity and innocence. It might also be a modern lampooning of the Immaculate Conception, for Michals revels in humor and satire, as is evident in the angel’s awkward and artificial wings. The blurred details reflect the artist’s attitude that "we don't see clearly at all." Michals uses the recording eye of the camera to confirm his abiding belief that visual perception is only a superficial reality. It is art that assists us in seeking the deeper truths that lie beyond mere appearance.
A recurring theme throughout Michals’s oeuvre is the attraction, both erotic and paternal, between human beings. In his cast of simultaneously ordinary and beautiful actors we see ourselves and the "other" that we hope to possess. Desire, in all its manifestations, is an essential part of life and art. "Everything is a subject for photography," remarks Michals,2 an artist who embraces the sacred and the profane, reality and illusion, love and loss.
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Quotes without notes are from a lecture given by Michals at the Akron Art Museum, December 4, 1995.
2. Interview by Paul Lin, “Duane Michals: A Picture and a Thousand Words,”View (1989): 11.
Kozloff, Max. Duane Michals: Now Becoming Then. Altadena, Calif.: Twin Palm, 1990.
Livingstone, Marco. The Essential Duane Michals. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.