Christopher Lyon, Duane Michals, and Linda Benedict-Jones on stage in the South Court Auditorium at the New York Public Library on Wednesday, November 5, 2014. Photo: Randy Duchaine.
Last Wednesday Duane Michals was on stage in the South Court Auditorium at the New York Public Library to discuss his two new books: ABCDuane and Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals. As part of An Art Book, the library’s ongoing series that celebrates the essential importance and beauty of art books, moderator Christopher Lyon offered the audience a brief introduction to Michals’s work and career.
“His activities touch on so many bases,” Lyon said about Michals. “Pioneering art photography. Unmatched portraitist. He’s a masterful editorial photographer, painter, art collector—storyteller above all—and an aesthetic gadfly who entertainingly undermines the claims of photography to represent reality. But I want to suggest that the apparent multi-sidedness of Duane is, itself, an illusion. As Duane made clear in [the text to his book Real Dreams], the key word, he wrote, is ‘expression’ not photography, not writing, not painting. So tonight I’m hoping that this really extraordinary gathering of critics, scholars, and curators will engage in a conversation illuminating Duane’s work and life.”
Duane Michals, Self-Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday, 1972, Carnegie Museum of Art, The Henry L. Hillman Fund.
With a deep-seated reverence for his Pittsburgh roots and a dogged determination to express himself through art, Duane Michals tells his stories his way. At long last, Pittsburgh will celebrate these stories, and the man behind them, through a definitive retrospective at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Duane Michals is an 82-year-old world-famous photographer, but as he talks he suddenly transforms into a 7-year-old boy in McKeesport. He recalls one day vividly. He and his mother have ventured inside Cox’s dress shop. His mother finds a chair, plants him there and says, “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, she loads a few shopping bags onto her little boy’s lap before disappearing into the dress racks again. He sits patiently for five minutes or so. Then panic grips him. Why hasn’t she come back? Has she left me?
She returns. But seven decades later, Michals can still feel that childhood fear of abandonment and death—emotions he has channeled into his photographic works. His images about childhood are among his most poignant and, until now, among his most overlooked. They will be exhibited as part of a major retrospective of his work that opens November 1 at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Still from Underground: The Corbis Image Vault, Part 1 of The Invisible Photograph © Carnegie Museum of Art.
For a few days back in late December 2013, a small group of us found ourselves 250 feet underground, exploring the subterranean expanse of Iron Mountain, a former limestone mine located in rural Western Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half’s drive north of Pittsburgh. You reach Iron Mountain on a windy road dotted with farmlands until you finally arrive at a nondescript parking lot and a guard station. Over 2,500 people work in this place, one of many Iron Mountain sites across the country, but you would never guess the immensity of it until you’re inside.
Here among data centers, governmental document storage facilities (including the National Archives and US Social Security), and vast collections of television and film celluloid reels (like Warner Brothers and Universal Studios), sits a repository of a very different kind of material. The Corbis Iron Mountain Archive houses over eleven million photographic negatives and glass plates from the Otto Bettmann Archive spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, and represents a significant glimpse into some of the most important historical moments captured by photographers both well-known and obscure. The fact that the collection was moved from an above-ground storage facility in New York City over ten years ago into the current underground “cold” storage gives a sense of its increasing importance. Bettmann himself had to smuggle his collection into the country after he was pushed out of Austria by the Nazis.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait of Elsa Elliott Harris, her mother Annie M. Elliott, Agnes Elliott, Vann Harris, Lionel Harris, and unknown girl, standing on grass with trees in background, c. 1949, black and white: Ansco Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.24756 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.
The last week of summer has come and gone, and with it go fond memories of warm sunshine and summer activities. I’m certain we’ll all miss the delicious tastes of the season—mouth-watering fruits and vegetables, barbecued meats, or fresh catches from the sea. The smell of sand and surf, fragrant meadows laden with flowers, and long sun-filled evenings spent outdoors are being traded for snuggling on a cozy couch with a great book or TV show. Perhaps you, like many, shared some fun moments with loved ones at family events such as weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, or reunions, enjoying the time seeing old friends and meeting new additions to your circle.
The family of Charles “Teenie” Harris had such a summer event—an annual family reunion. A portion of the festivities were held at Carnegie Museum of Art, which offered the Harris family time to explore the Teenie Harris Archive exhibition, Teenie Harris Photographs: Baseball in Pittsburgh. This collection was curated by Negro League player Josh Gibson’s great grandson—a fellow player and friend of Teenie’s. They also witnessed The Teenie Harris Archive’s contribution to Race: Are We So Different?, an exhibition currently on display at our sister facility the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Film still from Discarded: Joachim Schmid and the Anti-Museum © Carnegie Museum of Art.
“I am an artist because there is no other description for what I do.”
These are the surprisingly telling words of Joachim Schmid, a Berlin-based artist who has spent more than 30 years of his career working with found photographs. The majority of his projects have involved gathering and re-presenting photographs—both print and digital—taken by the anonymous public. Oftentimes intentionally discarded by their creators, Schmid’s source materials would, but for him, disappear into the physical or virtual trash heap. Instead, Schmid’s “anti-museum” of forgotten, lost, and disused photographs, challenges us to reconsider not only our assumptions of photographic worth, but also how photography and collecting function as cultural practices.