"People believe in the reality of photographs, but not in the reality of paintings. That gives photographers an enormous advantage," writes Duane Michals. A sequence of photographs titled, "The Spirit Leaves the Body," is an example of what he means. A transparent figure emerges out of the dead man lying naked on a bed in a barren room. The "spirit" gradually moves toward the viewer with each frame and disappears. It has been staged, of course, carefully composed by double exposing the film, but the illusion that Michals creates enters our psyche as more "real" than, say, a painting on the same subject by William Blake. Illusion created through the medium of photography (or motion pictures for that matter) casts a sharper shadow on Plato's cave wall than paintings ever will.
"Anxiety, childhood hurts, lust, nighmares . . . the things that cannot be seen" but are nevertheless real are the main subjects of Duane Michal's photographs. They are mostly in sequences, like movie stills, except that the stories or impressions are compressed at most into 15 frames, and more often into three, four, or five frozen moments. These photographs often stimulate our imagination, causing us to see beyond the images and reflect on our own experience.
In his later series, miniature stories (it takes about a minute to read one) are scribbled below the photographs, somewhat akin to those romans photos (picture novels) that are popular in Europe, or better, to Edward Gorey's illustrated stories. The visual quality of these photographs is below the standard of Michals's sequences without words - they rely too much on the text to tell the story. But some, like the absurb fantasy title "The Pleasures of the Glove," are gems, a delight to see and read. Although these photographs were exhibited in galleries (the Whitney, Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere), they are more at home in handsomely printed books such as this. (Addison House, $12.95)
If you seek technical information on how Michals composes his photographs, see The Photgraphic illusion: Duane Michals. (Alskog/Crowell, $4.95)
K. Franceis Tanabe