Photographer Duane Michals discusses his gay-themed work.
Internationally renowned photographer Duane Michals is outspoken, insightful, hilarious and--at 76--bubbling with the piss and vinegar of a man half his age.
"The Facts of Life," a 40-year retrospective presented in association with the Equality Forum at the University of the Arts, is the first Michals exhibit dedicated to works representing gay themes and images.
Michals' signature works are photographs inscribed with poetic prose and streaked with paint. Though he's primarily a photographer, Michals doesn't let his chosen medium restrict his expression--just as he's never restricted his body of work to themes of sexuality.
Originally from McKeesport, Pa., near Pittsburgh, and a longtime N.Y.C. resident, Michals calls Philadelphia "the center of gravity" for his family. After his father's death in the '70s, Michals' mother moved in with his brother in Chestnut Hill. (Michals' brother, sister-in-law and aunt still live in Philly. His sister-in-law is ex-mayor Bill Green's sister Ann.)
The exhibit will include seminal works such as the controversial Salvation (1984) and Chance Meeting (1970), as well as portraits of trailblazing contemporaries such as writer Gore Vidal, playwright Edward Albee and that impish art factory branded Andy Warhol.
Funny thing about fame. It tends to come to those who court it. (And everyone knows Andy was the queen of that court.) Michals is way more low-key.
"Andy was very famous for hanging out with lots and lots of people," he says. "I was very much a loner, and still am. I've been involved with a friend now for 48 years, and though we certainly are gay, we were never part of the gay scene."
PW spoke recently with Michals on topics from gay civil rights ("I don't know why gay people would want to get married") to artistic vision ("Why is it that some people have this unique vision that nobody else has?") and why this year's Equality Forum might be his first gay pride parade.
Wait--did you just say you've been with your partner for 48 years? Congratulations.
"Yeah I know! It's terrific. I can't wait for two more years. Yeah!"
So you stay to yourselves?
"I don't network. I don't go to parties. I don't go to openings. It doesn't interest me."
But you'll come to your opening in Philadelphia, right?
"Oh, absolutely. My brother lives there and my mother lived there. I have very strong ties to Philadelphia."
"You say you were a loner, but what about gay civil rights events? Did you go to the parades and all that?"
"Oh no. I was too uncivil. I was very uncivil, and the gays rejected me and didn't want me to march. Apparently I gave them a bad name. No. I wasn't at the barricades. I wasn't invited, so I didn't show. But I've always done work on the subject and have always been open in terms of giving lectures, and I've always been very frank about it. Although I'm gay, I'm certainly not typical in the same sense that I'm not a typical photographer."
After watching a generation go by, what do you think of gay civil rights now?