To reflect on our editorial theme of the relationship between the written word and the image, we asked the same questions to various people in the field in our current issue: What makes a great image-text project? How can we bridge the space between ‘the silence of the image and the blindness of language’? Can we reshape our understanding of what a photograph is? Do you have faith in the written word? And finally, what comes after the pictorial turn? Artist Duane Michals has made a career with his images accompanied by text or vice versa. Last year saw the premiere of his first video, Double Talk, and he is currently working on several more. Here are his answers to our questions:
A new illiteracy of images is being born, and is the result of the illiteracy of a culture with pretend language and pretend emotions. The images people are being presented with don’t demand much. Donald Trump is the reduction ad absurdum of the one-liner-insult intellectual discourse. Trump is the ultimate destination of the trivialisation of language as meaning. I’ve seen the future and it’s ‘fuck’.
I don’t really pay too much attention to photography as a field. I feel peripheral to PHOTOGRAPHY. However, because I love the field, I do get annoyed by trends that I think demean it. The first trend is the Cindy Sherman-ing of photography as an art, and by that I mean the million-dollar-and-up prints. Now that it’s become a product, students want to become photographers for the wrong reason. It’s the ‘hollywoodisation’ of photography.
I’ve always enjoyed literature and poetry, in some ways more than photography because writing conjures up an imaginary universe that you share with the writer and create with them. Photography is defined by the facts it represents. It doesn’t float in the air the way poetry does. De Chirico and Magritte are both poetic painters who play with facts, but contradict the facts with mystery.
Years ago I saw a photograph of a young man on crutches. His leg was in a cast, he had no shirt on, and he was at home leaning in a doorway. I was very touched by his vulnerability, his potential future possibilities as a man, as well as his fragility. Although I didn’t specifically copy this image, it has seeped into my work as part of how I view life.