Duane Michaels Exhibit Covers Six Decades of Work from McKeesport-Raised Photographer

Oct 31, 2014

Photographer Duane Michals grew up in McKeesport, but it was a trip to Russia that prompted his foray into photography.

"So going to Russia, I figured I should take pictures, so I borrowed a camera," said Michals. "Though I did take a course in photography, I didn't even own a camera. And I didn't take a light meter because I thought if I owned a light meter that meant I was officially a photographer, and that would have been intimidating ... if I had never gone to Russia, I never would have been a photographer, it literally changed my life."

Michal's work spans some six decades. Starting this weekend, the largest single collection of his work will open in an exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Michals bucked conventions in the 1960s, pairing handwritten messages and poems with his photographs, and his multi-image photo sequences experimented with double and triple exposures.

"All the innovations I did in photography, including the writing, came from frustration with the stillness of the still photo," said Michals. "Wat I did was make the still photos into talkies by writing. Photographs deal with appearances exclusively, if I showed you a picture of my mother it shows you what she looked like in 1972 or whatever, but it doesn't tell you her history, was she a good cook? What about her marriage? All those things you can't see. Photos fail constantly, photos lie constantly. People believe appearances — and nothing is what it appears to be, and certainly not people."

At 82, he's still taking photographs and has a new book coming out: "ABCDuane: A Duane Michals Primer" and he is working on a new portrait book and portrait exhibit in the spring.

Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals opens at noon Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Michals will be on hand from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for a book signing. The exhibit will run through February 16.