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‘Pittsburgh freak’ holds photography show on 85th birthday

Photo by Gracey Evans
Duane Michals talks about one of the series of photographs in “Dr. Heisenberg’’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” during his presentation sponsored by SilverEye Center for Photography on Saturday evening.

Written By Gracey Evans, Sports Photo Editor

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A sold-out crowd listened to a talk from Duane Michals about his new body of work “Talking Pictures” on Saturday.

Michals is a famed photographer that was born in McKeesport and calls himself a ‘Pittsburgh freak.’ He is most known for his use of photo sequences, which often incorporate text that expresses emotion or explains philosophy.

While talking about his still work, he talked about how he got started with photography, specifically with the photo sequence named “Chance Meeting.”

“Chance Meeting” is a photo sequence of six photographs featuring two men walking past each other while one man looks at the other man the whole time. In the last photo of the sequence, the second man finally looks behind him at the other man who is now gone.

“As a photographer, I never went to photography school, and I learned everything by doing,” Michals said. “You see when you go to school, they teach you the rules, and it’s very hard to unlearn the rules.”

Michals is best known for handwriting short narratives for his photographs, in order to “give them a voice.” According to SilverEye Center for Photography website, his text can be poetic, humorous and tragic all at once.

Michals would write narratives on the bottom of each photograph, such as “Dr. Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty,” about the reflection of the model and how the reflection can become something no one was expecting.

“I began to write with photographs because I got frustrated with the single image,” Michals said. “I was interested in not what things looked like, but what they feel like.”

Along with showing his previous work, Michals showed his new body of work titled “Talking Pictures.”

According to the SilverEye Center for Photography in a description of the event, Michals created the new body of work with the same spirit as his ongoing discoveries in the new ways of examining the medium of photography expand.

“At 85, I’m doing more work that I have before,” Michals said.

In total, there were a dozen short films, some of which included “The Book Crook,” “The Glove,” “Are You Still A Faggot” and “The Sorcerer Invents the Universe,” each of whichfeatured Michals as either an actor, writer or director.

Each of the short films had different genres such as comedy or drama while focusing on themes such as gender issues, but left the audience with questions.

“I think he’s ahead of his time in terms of identity and gender politics,” April Friges, an assistant professor of photography and photography department program coordinator, said. “He’s not afraid to express who he is, [he] doesn’t care what everyone thinks of him.”

Senior photography major Olivia Mazzocco is a big fan of Michals’ work, citing him as inspiration for the work she does.

Mazzocco admitted she has felt in a rut with her work but after hearing Michals speak, she has found the motivation to keep making art that is deeply influenced by his style.

“I think [the videos] left a lot more things unanswered than his other work that I was familiar with,” Mazzocco said. “I know that a lot of his series [such as], “The Fallen Angel” and “Grandpa Goes to Heaven,” and all of those you look at and you know what’s going on. Whereas the videos you’re sitting there like ‘What is this’ and ‘Why did he do this?’”

According to Michals, photography should be about asking questions and not giving answers.

At the end of the presentation and following a Q&A session, Michals was presented a piece of birthday cake since the talk landed on his 85th birthday.

“Just to see his ambition I think in itself is jaw dropping,” Friges said. “Watching him continue at this age and make meaningful works that run parallel with everything that he’s been doing for a long period of time. Showing that this is his life and this is his legacy.”

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