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Book Of The Week I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating Photographs by Alec Soth Reviewed by Blake Andrews Taking its name from a line in Wallace Stevens’ short poem “The Gray Room,” Alec Soth’s latest book is a lyrical exploration of intimacy. While these large-format color photographs are made all over the world, they aren’t about any particular place or population. Whether made in Odessa or his hometown of Minneapolis, Soth’s new book is fundamentally about intimate encounters in private rooms.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH775
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH775
I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating Photographs by Alec Soth

Mack, London, United Kingdom, 2019.
84 pp., color illustrations, 11¾x13¾".

Since bursting onto the scene fifteen years ago with Sleeping By The Mississippi, Alec Soth has established himself as not only one of the world's most prominent photographers, but also one of the more sensitive souls in photoland.

He has always treated the medium as something of a therapist's couch, beginning with his blog's introverted musing in the late 2000s, and continuing from one photo project to the next. Niagara, Dog Days Bogota, Broken Manual, Looking For Love, and Songbook are as much therapeutic tomes as documentary monographs.

Yuko. Berlin.
As his profile has grown, Soth's ruminations have increasingly spilled into public life. What deep internal paradox will he explore next? It's become a bit of a parlor game in critic's circles. But to date he's managed to stay one step ahead and keep us all guessing.

These days fans are just as likely to find poetry posted to Soth's Instagram as photography. One can't help wondering if perhaps he'd have rather been a poet after all? After all, this business of making portraits requires so much invasive prying, so much confrontation. To be huddled in private over a keyboard sounds better, no?

There have been hints of doubt along, but his latest book, I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, comes the closest to an outright declaration. "There is something predatory about [portraiture]," he comments casually to Hanya Yanagihara while chatting in the book's afterword. Have I mentioned that the book contains mainly portraiture?

Nick. Los Angeles.
True enough. But the recent portraits come with a twist. In contrast to Soth's previous projects, they show friends, not strangers. And whereas the bulk of Soth's past portraiture has been captured on the fly, in whatever environment he happened to find people, the new work is largely made in domestic interiors, in the homes of his subjects.

For some photographers, familiarity eases the image-making process. Not Soth. "I don't photograph people I know," he tells Yanagihara. "The more I know you, the less likely I am to photograph you." Nevertheless, he's persisted in doing just that, targeting friends and colleagues throughout Europe and the U.S. "It's photo 101. I'm just spending time with a person, taking their portrait."

Leyla and Sabine. New Orleans.
Soth's social circle now includes a generous slice of artists and intellectuals. Nancy Rexroth is here, as is Vince Alletti, along with several well furnished apartments, drawing rooms, and fusty libraries. We have left the world of Charles in Vasa far behind, moving into more rarified social strata.

Whether it's the strata or familiarity, Soth's discomfort is evident. A decade ago, encountering a stranger on the road, he was a master of possibility. But here he seems unsure of the best approach. Some subjects are shot through doors or passages at narrow depth of field, subsuming them to technical device. (The best of this type, Soth's shot of William Eggleston at his piano, is not included here). Some recline or sit, staring at the camera or a thousand yards off, while others are propped among artifacts imbued with personal meaning. Taken as a set of 35 photos, the general effect is rather stiff and formal. Of this Soth seems well aware. Indeed, maybe it's just another personality tic, open for self-examination? "Photography, for me, has always been about separation and this feeling of social distance that I have," he tells Yanagihara. Thumbing the images, one can visualize Soth at the scene, fiddling with the camera, talking himself up to the challenge at hand. Tell me again why I'm doing this. Is it too late to be a poet?

Nancy. Cincinnati.
Ten years ago he might've pushed these situations until he hit paydirt. No longer. "I just don't feel pushy in that way any more….I have a sense now it doesn't matter as much. Enough is enough with the ego gratification." A year off of shooting, along with, has helped Soth mature beyond the blunt aggression of youth. He's middle-aged, happy, and in a better place now. But where does that leave his photographs? To be sure, there are still flashes of brilliance. Leopold in Warsaw is magnetic, as is Chicran in his Budapest bedroom, and Sonya laying across Dombrovsky's lap. Who are these people? That's the question that drives all the best portraits. As for the others here, we don't know these people either, but the answer seems less imperative.

Sonya and Dombrovsky. Odessa.
I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating seems a transitional book for Soth. He's edging away from past endeavors. But toward what, it's hard to say. Whatever comes next will surely embrace his sensitivity and meditative quality —"I'm on the poetic side of the spectrum". Beyond that, we shall see. Soth himself probably doesn't know. But he may have inserted a clue —a prompt to his future self— in the book's opening and closing photos. The first one shows a bird trapped inside a windowed room. The last image shows an empty birdcage.

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Cammy’s View. Salt Lake City.



Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.


photo-eye Gallery Kindred Spirits: Gallery Favorites Part 1 Three Works We Love from Kindred SpiritsGiven the scope of our Kindred Spirits exhibition, we're breaking our usual Gallery Favorites post into two parts. This week, photo-eye Gallery’s staff members have had the pleasure of writing about which pieces in this exhibition they individually relate to or find uniquely compelling.


Humans relate to animals in ways that are as varied and unique as we are. photo-eye Gallery’s current exhibition, Kindred Spirits, contains a range of artworks that speak to the multitudinous ways in which humans and animals connect. From the tangible reality of Pentti Sammallahti’s captured moments, to the  Keith Carter’s transformation of the everyday, to the magic realism of Maggie Taylor’s photomontage, to David L. Deming's playful canine constructions this exhibition is diverse in its presentation of subject and spirit. There is something here for everyone. Given the scope of our Kindred Spirits exhibition, we're breaking our usual Gallery Favorites post into two parts. This week, photo-eye Gallery’s staff members have had the pleasure of writing about which pieces in this exhibition they individually relate to or find uniquely compelling.



Anne Kelly Selects Maggie Taylor's The alchemist's chamber, 2019

Maggie Taylor – The alchemist's chamber, 2019, Archival Pigment Print, 15x15" Image, Edition of 15, $2800

Anne Kelly
Gallery Director
(505) 988-5152 x121
The work I am selecting for the first part of our Kindred Spirits Gallery Favorites post is Maggie Taylor’s lush and colorful image, The alchemist’s chamber. I find this image to be completely captivating. The alchemist's chamber could be a photorealistic oil painting from the Dutch Golden Age – a simple, but perfectly arranged composition with raking light streaming through a cathedral-like window, perhaps the first or last light of the day. When I first viewed this image I was delighted to discover a goldfish floating in what appears to be a vintage cocktail glass, yet on further inspection, came to learn that the fish is actually not a fish at all, but rather a cleverly composed arrangement of orange flower petals. Evidence of alchemy. Perhaps all the flowers in the vase will transform into moths, maybe or they were moths to begin with. In this image, anything is possible.





Alexandra Jo Selects Pentti Sammallahati's, Untitled, 2005

Pentti Sammallahti – Untitled, 2005, Gelatin-Silver Print, 7x6", Image, $1300


Alexandra Jo
Gallery Assistant
(505) 988-5152 x116
I have always felt connected to animals in some deep, intuitive, vital way.  My little sister and I spent a large portion of our childhood playing with the menagerie of cats, dogs, chickens, horses, goats, ducks, etc. that our grandparents kept on their land in rural Alabama. These experiences greatly impacted the way that we related to each other as children and the way that we still connect to the world at large. Loving animals is something that vibrates at the core of my being, intrinsic. However, I also firmly believe that the human capacity for tenderness toward the other creatures with which we share this planet is innate, not just specific to my family, and acknowledging and fostering that capacity is crucial for a thorough understanding of humanity’s place in the world.

It is this belief that draws me to one particular Pentti Sammallahti photograph in our Kindred Spirits exhibition. “Untitled, 2005” captures a candid moment in which a girl lifts her little sister to get a better view of a tiny kitten, alone and mewling on an outdoor counter. Another small girl looks back expectantly, waiting her turn. Knowing the extensive travel Sammallahti undertakes to create his work, it is safe to assume that this moment took place far away from Alabama, and yet the scene is so familiar to me that I become nostalgic. I instantly remember the shared moments with my own sister centered around the numerous kittens that we watched come into the world, or rescued with the help of our grandparents. These animals were our constant companions through childhoods thick with the discovery of how life blossoms. This photograph is a reminder, maybe even a confirmation, that these kinds of experiences take place across all of humanity. Our relationship with the animal world shapes who and what we are as a species, not just as individuals, but also as a whole. It unifies.

So, it isn’t the masterful composition of lines and geometry or the delicate printing techniques that speak most to me, though those things are certainly beautiful, and apparent in the photograph. It is the way that Sammallahti’s poetic, ever-watchful eye was able to capture this unifying essence between human and animal subtly, gracefully, through subjects full of youthful innocence and wonder. For me, this one photograph completely embodies the meaning of “Kindred Spirits.”   


Lucas Shaffer Selects Keith Carter's San Galgano, 1998

Keith Carter – San Galgano, 1998 Toned Gelatin-Silver Print, 15x15" Image, Edition of 50, $3600


Lucas Shaffer
Special Projects & Client Relations
(505) 988-5152 x114
San Galgano is quintessential late-90’s Keith Carter. I adore the contrast of these two white fluffy felines against the murky dilapidated stone interior of the 13th-Century Italian abbey. For me, there is a logical dissonance seeing the cats here in the abbey’s ruins, their presence seems out of place, curious. Most likely these cats are doing just as cats want to do – find a safe sunny spot to lounge about in, but Carter plays off the situation’s delightful curiosity to build a scene imbued with mystique by tilting his lens, split toning the print, and using a gorgeously symmetrical composition. This is what Carter does best; he excels at using his photographic tools to transform the commonplace into the wonderous. Paramount in this transformation is the trio of glowing lancet windows to the top of the frame. Even without knowing the Abbey at San Galgano is a gothic church, the form of the lancet windows with their tall, arched, bright but blurry forms punctuate the frame further separating the scene from reality and helping lend the image it's ethereal, dare I say, spiritual quality. Now I know that these cats are not “ghost cats” or “angel cats”, but Carter’s image creates a space to believe in forces and connections outside my own sensorial perception. Here’s to witnessing the extraordinary, the miraculous, and the sacred in the everyday.



All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
(505) 988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com


• • • • •

On view through August 24, 2019

Featuring work by Keith Carter, David Deming, Pentti Sammallahti, and Maggie Taylor

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. Prices will increase as editions sell. 









Books Moon Week July 20th marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.In recognition of this historic event we will be featuring moon and space-related books throughout the week in addition to our normal newsletter content. These titles continuously remind us to turn our gaze up, towards the heavens.




July 20th marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. In recognition of this historic event we will be featuring our favorite moon and space-related books throughout the week in addition to our normal newsletter content.

These staples for every cosmic collection continuously remind us to turn our gaze up, towards the heavens.




https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH977
The Afronauts (Third Edition)
Christina de Middel

In 1964 a Zambian science teacher named Edwuard Makuka decided to train the first African crew to travel to the moon. His plan was to use an alluminium rocket to put a woman, two cats and a missionary into Space.

First the moon, then Mars, using a catapult system. He founded the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Astronomical Research to start training his Afronauts in his headquarters located only 20 miles from Lusaka.





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT241
The Heavens
Barbara Bosworth

The Heavens focuses on Boston-based photographer Barbara Bosworth's (born 1953) images of the moon, sun and sky.

Made over the past several years with an 8x10 camera, the star images are hour-long exposures with the camera mounted on a clock drive so that the stars are rendered as dots instead of streaks. The sun and moon images are made with a telescope attached to Bosworth's camera.





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DS686
The Moon 1968-1972
Evan Backes & Tom Adler

The photographs in The Moon 1968–1972 are fascinating documents of the majesty of outer space, but also record the surface of the moon as a landscape of wonder.

This is the moon of which E.B. White wrote in the July 1969 issue of The New Yorker: “The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaity.”





http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT617
Moon Atlas
Luca Missoni

Moon Atlas
is structured in two sections: a photographic study of the moon in each of its phases, followed by playful renderings of the moon in various colors and compositions, highlighting the tension between the bright visible face and the hidden dark side.

The result is Missoni's personal interpretation of our closest heavenly body as a beautiful book capturing the obsession of artists throughout history.





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZG006
Intergalático
Guilherme Gerais

Intergalático, the published debut of Guilherme Gerais, is a visually based literary essay. Comprising a narrative in black and white and filled with photographs, illustrations, and small tracings, the book is presented as a map, a guide, a trail to a ritualistic journey, but with an enigmatic starting point: a missing space.

The book uses as it's narrative structure a fictional board game and the correspondence of an unknown character with this game.





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=dt432
The Comet
Hanns Zischler & Jean-Pierre Bibring

In 2004 the European Space Agency decided to send the Rosetta probe to study the 67P comet Churyumov Gerasimenko. After a ten-year voyage, the probe entered the comet’s orbit and stayed there for 18 months — a first in the history of space conquest.

Among the important data collected by the Rosetta probe were scores of incredible new photographs of the comet — presented here in an extraordinary book.





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=LO024
Planets
Arthur Tress

"I ask you to tour with me on a globally positioned satellite, making an interstellar journey across vast galaxies through the floating camera's telescopic porthole, spanning light years, orbiting the vast reaches of the cosmos..."

— Arthur Tress






https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=IB854
Alternative Moons
Nadine Schlieper & Robert Pufleb

"Setting off on the imaginative journey through fictitious space by browsing the pages of the photobook, the viewer is confronted with a surprising fact on the very last page – turning the reception of the whole book upside down.

You are welcome to join the space trip, feel free to discover formerly unseen images of mysterious moons from an unknown galaxy, as the dawn of reality is catching up behind the scenes."
— Nadine Schlieper





https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH631
Endless Bridge
Mikhail Mishin

This image contains this moment and all moments, past and future, all the wisdom and life. The subject instantly recognizable, yet unfathomably distant.
This essential icon of Apollo 17's 'Blue Marble' is not reality though. What is clearly shown is that this is only a representation of all that we know and hold true. What represents our existence has been physically removed from its surroundings.
Its artificiality is more apparent when contrasted with the physical proof of a hand that modified the picture. The picture that represents the reality it exists within.


Book Of The Week I wish the world was even Photographs by Matteo Di Giovanni Reviewed by Tim Carpenter Matteo Di Giovanni travels north by car, cutting Europe vertically, through the winter. To look at the world through the eyes of Matteo means, in the first place, to be always immersed in the landscape, and to see it flowing along the sides of the road.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH958
I wish the world was even. By Matteo Di Giovanni.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH958
I wish the world was even
Photographs by Matteo Di Giovanni

Artphilein Editions, Switzerland, 2019.
80 pp., 10½x8¾". In English.

“Everything relies in fighting that nothingness,” Matteo Di Giovanni writes in the spare, elliptical text that accompanies the pictures in his essential book I wish the world was even. Yes, and amen. “[O]ur worst fear,” as Robert Adams told us, is “the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.”

Like all of us in our various ways, Matteo has suffered. The great achievement of this book is in the way he has used his specific suffering to make sense of the world, and that he not only shares with us the made results (the photographs), but also the actual lived experience of the sense-making itself (the book as a whole).

“Flatness,” Matteo says of his personal desire for form, “Thinking of a flat world is such a childish idea.” One sees the point: perhaps it is indeed naïve to consider our existence as manageable in any way whatsoever; to wish the world was “even,” to make it play fair just for once. And yet: Matteo does master his world – however fleetingly – in these pictures, these fragments shored against his ruins. They are somehow both miraculous and inevitable.

The front part of that Adams quote above asks: “Why is Form beautiful?” and the answer is because it helps us meet that fear of the chaos, the nothingness. I wish the world was even does just that.

Purchase Book

I wish the world was even. By Matteo Di Giovanni.

I wish the world was even. By Matteo Di Giovanni.
 
Tim Carpenter is a photographer and writer who works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. His latest book Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road will be published by The Ice Plant in September.

photo-eye Gallery photo-eye Gallery in 3 Dimensions Introducing Sculpture by David L. DemingBy Alexandra Jo"After speaking with Deming for only a short time, I realized that he is very like his sculptures… open, humorous, cheerful, buoyant, but also made of sturdier, relatable stuff. Both artist and artwork are substantial, harmonizing a carefree disposition and a tangible, solid presence." – Alexandra Jo

David L. Deming
Whimsical, fun, lighthearted… the first impression made by David L. Deming’s large-scale metal sculptures of caricatured dogs is candid and unmistakable. The free, acrobatic, animated quality of each sculpture’s gesture is even more impressive when one realizes the density and weight of the amassed hunks of steel Deming collects and assembles to create each piece. Departing from the typical photography-only standard at photo-eye Gallery, our current exhibition, Kindred Spirits, features three of Deming's large dog sculptures. These works are physically heavy, psychologically blithe. This contrast between real-world mass and emotional weightlessness creates an engaging tension in the work when experienced in person.


David L. Deming, Dog with Bird, 
1997, Painted Steel, 84 x 29 x 16, Unique, $10,000
The artist himself is also quite the in-person experience. A natural storyteller and big personality, Deming is warm and convivial, candid and unmistakable. His jovial disposition makes perfect sense after seeing his work, as he seems to bring his sculptures to life when he is in front of them.  On the opening night of Kindred Spirits, I heard charming and interminable stories from Deming. There was one about the beginning of his teaching career when he spontaneously pretended to be a nuclear physicist instead of an artist at a faculty function, and then the time as a student at Cranbrook that he unwittingly sold a sculpture out of his studio to a well-known wealthy family in the auto industry. He told me about meeting two United States presidents, and tearing his hamstring during a touch-football game in his forties. We talked about his Italian grandmother’s immigration to an arranged marriage in the US, and he had me feel a protruding ligament in his hand that apparently, surprisingly, speaks more to his distant northern European heritage than the countless studio hours he’s spent laboring over his sculptures.

After speaking with Deming for only a short time, I realized that he is very like his sculptures… open, humorous, cheerful, buoyant, but also made of sturdier, relatable stuff. Both artist and artwork are substantial, harmonizing a carefree disposition and a tangible, solid presence. It was my pleasure to ask Deming a few questions specifically about his work in photo-eye’s current exhibition, Kindred Spirits:

David L. Deming, Josephine is a Hard Act to Follow, 1994, Painted Steel, 70 x 42 x 18 inches, Unique, $15,000

Alexandra Jo (AJ): From what I understand, you got your start in sculpture working more with the human figure. How did you first begin making sculptures of dogs? 
David Deming (DD): I started my sculpture career path mostly interested in creating life like figures specializing on busts of people.  As I matriculated through 7 years of Art School I really broadened my sculptural horizons by becoming much more devoted to abstraction as my primary direction.  Having said that, my love for the figure never faded and I just pursued both directions through the years to follow.  My first dog sculpture was somewhat of a goofy circumstance.  I responded to the Texas Fine Art Association’s call for artists and architects to donate work for their annual auction.  The theme of that year’s auction was “Time.”  Normally, I would hate to have to make something that would fit a theme that wasn’t mine to begin with, but I said OK, so I needed to make a sculpture that had something to do with “Time.” 
Like most of us artists I procrastinated until two days before I needed to submit my sculpture to the auction.  I arrived at my studio on a Saturday morning and decided that maybe if I just started welding some pipe together that I found on my floor, just maybe an idea would emerge and I would know what to make.  Well the two pipe sections that I welded together looked like the beginning of a bulldog. So that intrigued me as I spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday finishing off my metal bulldog.  As I was leaving the studio with that dog, taking it home to show my wife and kids, I thought ... now what am I going to give to the auction in the theme of “Time”?  Suddenly like a bolt of lightning, I looked down at my new creation and thought...A “watch dog” with ticks! I submitted it for auction and it sold for $5,000. After that I thought it could be a good idea to make more of those, so I did.
AJ: What is the primary difference for you between working on human portraits and works representing animals?  
DD:  The main difference in the human portraits is that if someone’s nose looks a bit like a plumbing part it is best to develop that feature so that only I know that I think your nose looks like a plumbing part.
AJ: Each sculpture seems to have it’s own personality. Is that something you have envisioned ahead of time or do the quirks of each sculpture emerge as you create them?  
David L. Deming, Hooper II, 1998, Painted Steel,
80 x 26 x 24 inches, Unique, $10,000
DD: Most of the time I start directly with the steel that I have in the studio without doing a drawing first.  I love the spontaneity of going directly to the sculptural form.  Sometimes I think about the type of dog I might pursue right from the start but often I allow the materials I have at hand dictate the direction I eventually take.  This is as exciting a process as I can have leaving a lot of creative room to develop my dog characters and personalities. 
It is interesting how making up the dogs this way and forming their faces to reflect their individual personalities is not really so far from doing my sculptural portrait work in clay. The other aspect I love about creating my dog sculptures is that they employ almost as much abstraction in how I put the pieces together as I do with my more non figurative work. 
I am always moved by people who think that they had a dog just like one of my sculpture dogs. 
Mine though are always obedient and don’t require daily attention.

 >>Kindred Spirits runs through August 24, 2019.




All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
(505) 988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com


• • • • •

On view through August 24, 2019

Featuring work by Keith Carter, David Deming, Pentti Sammallahti, and Maggie Taylor

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. Prices will increase as editions sell. 









Book Store Interview Empty New York Photographs and Text by Duane Michals Interview by Forrest Soper Beautifully realised and now achingly nostalgic, the photographs in Empty New York show us the city frozen in time, just as Eugène Atget, one of Michals’ heroes, commemorated Paris in the early years of the twentieth century. As much social history as photographic reportage, Duane Michals’ pictorial poem reminds us with every frame how he has earned his place among the greats of American photography.
Empty New York. By Duane Michals.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH871
Empty New York
Photographs and Text by Duane Michals

Enitharmon Press, London, UK, 2018.
In English. 224 pp., 12x13x1¼".

The following interview took place at 12:00 PM EST on June 25th, 2019 during a phone conversation between Duane Michals and Forrest Soper. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Forrest Soper: I’m speaking today with Duane Michals whose most recent book Empty New York, was published in 2018. It contains over two hundred duotone images of New York City made in the 1960s. As the title suggests, most of these images lack human presence creating an empty portrait of the city that is seldom seen.

The first question that I wanted to ask you is: This body of work was one of the earliest photographic series you made. You were in your early thirties, and you had only really been working with photography for around six years. Do you recall what first inspired you to take photographs of the city in this way?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
Duane Michals: I fell in love with Atget. Don’t forget, that was a long time ago and Atget wasn’t well known at all. And every now and then I would run into one of his pictures of empty Paris, and I was just thrilled! And then I saw this wonderful documentary by a photographer named Becker called Atget (Harold Becker, Eugène Atget, 1964) It was stunning, mesmerizing, and almost like walking through a dream of Paris in 1901 or something… whatever the date. So, I decided to do an exercise on New York in the same way. I began to get up early Sunday mornings and just walk around the streets. If you photographed a bodega with one person in it, you looked at the person…and I was just looking at the environment.

I knew that wasn’t what I would be doing in my life, but it was an exercise. I did it for, I don’t know for how long… and I published a few of them. But eventually, it led me to do stories because these different places looked like stage sets, and then I thought well, if they’re stage sets, then I could ‘people them’ and make my own drama. The question was: 'how do I do that?' And the second question: 'what is my drama?'

FS: And when you first saw Atget’s work, what was it specifically about his images that captivated and inspired you?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
DM: It was the emptiness. It was like the city had been abandoned. It was usually dramatic because, in New York, we are used to traffic and cars honking and people running against the light and cellphones. And suddenly there was a beautiful, beautiful corner and it forced me to look at the corner itself. And of course, time is on the side of photography, and these photographs which were done in the 60’s it’s already a long time… '64 I believe, look how long ago that is already and they have a dated quality.

It’s like looking at old Times Square — which by today’s standards looks like downtown Peoria, Illinois — and looking at Penn Station which was stunningly beautiful. It’s a record of Penn Station. These places, they have their own existence. The city exists without us. We could all die, and the city would still be here... unless we blow it up. And it’s just quite magical. It’s theater. Of course, our lives are theater. Right now, this conversation is a little bit of theater — way, way, way off Broadway I might add — but never the less, theater and that’s what it’s about. It’s about theatricality, history, drama, and the empty street.

And every now and then you might see somebody, and there’s something kind of … they all look like ghosts. And these photographs look like ghosts too. It doesn’t exist in the same way… the way we won’t. I’m 87 and I’m not going to be around… [in] my family everybody goes at 85, 86, 87, so I’m at the cusp of ‘not being.’ I call it ‘not being,’ I think death is such a nasty word. So, I will not be. Anyway, that’s it. I’m dead.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: It’s interesting. Before I started reading this book I never would have associated your work with Atget’s. But after doing some research, the parallels between your life and his are remarkably similar.

You both served time in the army before turning your attention towards art. Atget briefly studied acting at the national conservatory of music before he was expelled, and likewise, you studied graphic design at Parsons before leaving without securing a degree. And you both worked briefly in your respective fields of study before turning towards photography. And finally, the two of you drew most of your artistic inspiration, not from other photographers, but from painters.

With that in mind, when you are looking at this work, were there any painters that influenced this body of work in addition to Atget’s photographs?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
DM: Its interesting you said that because I’ve taken nothing from photography. I love photography, but my sources [of inspiration] are writers and painters — artists. I love the whimsy of Lewis Carrol. I love all of that childish fairytales. I also love… Magritte was a huge influence on me. And also, Balthus and de Chirico. I tend towards the surrealists. They don’t reproduce reality. I’m not a Stephen Shore kind of photographer. I don’t walk around photographing suburbs — which is a legitimate thing to do, and he does it well — but that’s not what I’m interested in. My work is theater. I did little dramas, I tell little stories.

You’re right in the terms that, Atget... I don’t identify with Atget, but I could tell where he came from.

FS: You mentioned this briefly before, but the majority of images in this book haven’t been published before. What made you want to re-visit these images and publish a book, some 55 years after you made them?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
DM: Because it’s been 55 years since I made them! I’m on the cusp of going away, so I wanted to get them out there. It was a wonderful body of work. If you get involved in those pictures, they are very emotional for me. They are very haunting. I find them melancholy. There’s a certain... a heavy sense of time.

The decisive moment is a wonderful thing — photography deals with time beautifully. When I see those pictures Brady took of dead Civil War soldiers at Appomattox Court House in the trenches with their bloated stomachs… You can read about the Civil War, but when you see those photographs it makes it very real. Time has always had a heavy presence in photography. The genius of photography is that [by the time] I say ‘It’s now’ it is not 'now', but it is still 'now' in that film. That picture of when I graduated from high school is still there, that moment that’s not there is… [the image is] a reminisce of that moment. It’s quite poetic and very touching in a deep way.

FS: I was wondering. When you revisited this work during the course of making this book, did you view the images in a new light? Did you see them differently from when you first made them?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.
DM: Yes, because when I first made them I was part of them. I was in them. I was of them. Now that time has intervened, I look at them again, but I am not the same person I was when I took them in the same way that they are not the same place they were when I was walking down the street looking in the window. They are two different experiences. And there’s a beautiful melancholy about it. A sweet melancholy. It’s not a sad melancholy. It’s a sweet melancholy of what once was. I like that — ‘once was.’ Those photographs are a remanence of then.

I’m particularly touched by the Penn station ones, which I mentioned before. Because there are a couple of people in there, and if you look at the clock at like 6:42.* And you knew that was 6:42 in the morning, not 6:42 in the evening. In the evening it would have been filled with computers — computers? commuters! Words that start with ‘Com.’ (Don’t even go there.) Anyway… I should have warned you that I’m very verbal.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: No, that’s great!

DM: 42 regular. Yeah.

FS: I wanted to talk to you a bit about the process of making this book and making books in general. You’ve published dozens of books over the course of your career. Books have served as a large source of inspiration for your work, be it books of Atget, of Whitman, of Cavafy.

When you’re making a book — or when you’re reading a book — what makes a book successful? What is the mark of a good book?

DM: Well, first of all, I love books.

I don’t spend money on clothes. I steal most of my clothes, I never spend money on clothes — that’s supposed to be a joke.

FS: *laughs*

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
DM: If I’m going to steal them, I might as well go to a good store instead of the second-hand shit I wear… but it’s not important to me.

But, I truly love books. I prefer my work to be seen in books. I like the intimacy of books. When you pick up a book, every single sentence in that book is a thought. The writer sat down and thought that sentence and then he wrote it. If you could hear a book it would sound like a symphony. And if you’d go to a library or a bookstore, if you could hear the books it would be a cacophony of all kinds of sounds! It’s really quite beautiful.

Books are my best friend. I prefer my work to be seen in books. You know exhibits are nice and all that, but ultimately you have this book that will last way, way, way beyond the exhibit. And you could revisit the book at any time. You could go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet and read a book — yeah, I said that!

I truly love books. You read something, say by Walt Whitman or Cavafy and it was written over a hundred years ago. It’s beautiful. The idea that those words endured through wars — present wars, Hitler, and hopefully through Trump (unless they burn them. Of course, Nazis and all fascists have to burn books. They have to burn ideas.)

So, I do prefer my work to be seen in books because of the intimacy of books and the privacy.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: You mention the intimacy of books. I know that you don’t print your photographs large. They’re rather small prints compared to your contemporaries. Is the reason behind that, that sense of intimacy you want to convey?

DM: Yes. I love diaries. I like anything that’s personal.

I hate those large photographs. I once said that an 8x10’ Gursky picture of a parking lot in Tokyo is just a huge parking lot. But an 8x10” Robert Frank can break your heart. So, it has nothing to do with the size of the photograph. Large photographs are only designed to get attention, to take up wall space. The most banal photograph can look good if it's big, by just the sheer size.

  
So, I tend to like small people. 5’8” and under. I love Toulouse-Lautrec and Mickey Rooney — they’re my favorites. And I like journals and diaries, so yes, I do prefer small prints.

I’m not that big myself actually.

FS: How tall are you?

DM: 5’7”. I used to be 5’8”, but now I’m 5’7”. The incredible shrinking Duane! My dad was pre-shrunk. He never got smaller. Anyway, how tall are you?

FS: I’m roughly 6’1”.

DM: Well that’s huge! Oh Rough? How rough are you?

FS: *laughs* I don’t think I’m that rough.

DM: Well you just said roughly! Rough! *makes dog noises*

FS: This book, you published it through Enitharmon Editions. Was this your first time working with them?

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
DM: Let me think. I did something with them in the past, that’s how I know them but I don’t remember what it was. Oh! I did The House I Once Called Home with them.

FS: Oh! It’s interesting because that’s a body of work that I saw being directly inspired by this work, I see a lot of visual similarities.

DM: Uh-huh. Where are you from?

FS: Originally, I’m from Boulder, Colorado.

DM: I went to DU!

FS: How was that?

DM: Well it was far away — oh you didn’t say where was it. *laughs*

What happened was, I was 17. I’m from Pittsburgh and I was supposed to go to Carnegie Tech in those days. And I was trying to get a scholarship and you had to list three schools. So I listed my first two choices, and then I looked at the list of schools and they had the University of Denver and I thought ‘well that’s a long shot I’m never going to get it. Denver mountains — that must be nice.’ And amazingly I got a scholarship!

I was seventeen going on five. I was very naive and very young and very homesick. So, I have a soft spot in my heart for Colorado. Although I suspect Denver is getting much too big.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: Just as New York is.

DM: Yeah. Again see, I like small cities. Anyway, I wish you weren’t 6’1” that kind of ruined the whole illusion… but I’ll get over it.

FS: I’m sorry. What would my ideal height be?

DM: 5’7” I like people my size — bite-sized.

So, then what happened? I threw you off your trolley. We were talking about Enitharmon Press.

FS: Right! How long did it take to make Empty New York? How long were you working with them on this project?

DM: I don’t know. It took a long time because I’ve only published only four or five of those pictures so there were tons of them. Over 200 to go through, make choices, and remember things about them. It was very nice because it really brought back that particular time and who I was then, and where they led me.

When you do a work, the work itself is wonderful but then the second question: 'Where does it take you? What does it open in your mind?' Work should never be an end in itself. It should always open new doors for you. It has two meanings. The original meaning and the eventual meaning.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: With that in mind, I know this work is now seen as a precursor to your series, your sequences, your portraits, and your textual drawings. But going back to when you were making these photographs, what was your next step? What did you start photographing immediately after Empty New York?

DM: Oh well that led me to doing Sequences.

I always tell the story about a photograph of a barber shop. For some reason, I’m bald so I tend to photograph lots of barber shops, I guess nostalgia. But on the wall in this one barber shop was a white jacket, you know the kind that a barber puts on? And I thought: ‘Oh look! He comes in, he puts on his barber costume, and then he does his barber act!’ That was very liberating to me. Although the concept was cumulative, that was the moment when I thought: ‘Gee! Why don’t I ‘people’ this room and make my own drama?’ That was very liberating. And the next question was: ‘What’s that going to be?’ I like that idea of: ‘yeah Mr. Wise guy? So what is it? Put up or shut up.’ So that was liberating.

Then in Brooklyn, I set up a little street scene. (The bridge is over there.) I considered it a failure. But then I realized later all I had to do was animate it. Just make the people cross the street, go around the corner and disappear. It was like bringing it to life. That was a very exciting period for me because it liberated me from the tyranny of the decisive moment. I could do whatever I wanted to do. Then the question was: ‘what did I want to do?’ and then the next step to liberate me from a certain kind of photography — or to re-invent photography for myself —was to write text under it. And that was very liberating.

And now I’m making movies which is also the destination I suppose — what I’ve been doing all these years at this late date brought me to making films.

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: That actually was going to be one of my last questions: ‘What you are working on now?’ So, you’re making cinematic work?

DM: Yeah, what happened was, I call them mini-movies. They’re films of maybe 5, 6, 7 minutes. I don’t have any ambitions for Hollywood. But of course, if somebody offered me ten million, I’d say 'I’ll do a porno for ten million. I’d even star in it.' Anyways, I got so distracted by the porno idea that I have to get off the phone for a minute.

FS: *laughs*

DM: Now what was I thinking about? Films!

I had a great long-time friend that I spent my life with named Fred and he died two years ago of Alzheimer’s. We were together for 57 years and the last seven years he left me every day little by little as he vanished into Alzheimer’s. During that period, I was completely saturated — marinated in taking care of him. My assistant told me that we could make a film with a little camera.

So, for... I don’t know how many years now, maybe four or five years? We’ve been making these films. I suppose by now we have thirty of them. But we’re making two right now. One is called ‘Fart Art.’ It’s a movie where I sell farts of famous artists on the corner. And then we did one where I interviewed myself which is funny. And then we’re doing another one called ‘The Bird Whisperer.’ It’s about a man who does these magical and theatrical things with birds. It’s been very liberating. To me, the ultimate liberation in the work is to make these little films. It involves writing the story, and I act in a lot of them.

You should come see the movies!

Empty New York. By Duane Michals.

  
FS: I would love to!

DM: You’ll be surprised! It’ll knock your socks off! (as a starter.)

FS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to add to the readers out there? Any parting words of wisdom?

DM: Do it.

Life is very, very short. A lot of people are bullshitters. They talk, and talk, and talk. I talk a lot, but I ‘do it.’ I’m very verbal, it’s natural, it’s what I do. But people talk and never do anything. Or they make projects that are so grandiose that it couldn’t happen.

‘Oh! I have this great idea. At five in the morning, I want to flood Times Square and have five hundred white horses running through the water – splashing.’

Please. That’s never going to happen. 300 I could see, but 500 is ridiculous. But do it! Do it! Do it! Life is too short.

Now, I don’t mind getting old because I did it well. But the two things [to remember]:

Number one: Have no regrets. If I think of something I’ll do it. Although I talk a lot, I’m not a bullshitter.

Number two: Don’t be poor. Being poor in this culture when you get old is very mean to you. It’s very mean. This culture is very mean. And if you have children, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to look out for you… And don’t be rich either, but, just don’t be poor.

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Empty New York. By Duane Michals.


  


Duane Michals is an American photographer who creates narratives within a series of images. Born on February 18, 1932 in McKeesport, PA, Michals received his BA from the University of Denver in 1953 before starting to work as a photo journalist. Over the course of his career, he has taken portraits of influential artists such as Andy Warhol, René Magritte, and Marcel Duchamp, often marking his prints with poetic writings and observations about his subject. He currently lives and works in New York, NY. The artist's works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, among others.

Forrest Soper is an artist and photographer currently based out of Rochester, New York. A graduate student at the George Eastman Museum and The University of Rochester, Forrest has worked as the editor of photo-eye Blog and as a photochemical lab technician at Bostick & Sullivan. forrestsoper.com

*The clock in the photograph mentioned reads 6:55 rather than 6:42.