Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Duane Michals

Maverick photographer Duane Michals (b. 1932) is a self-taught American photographer whose initial success was won with his work for magazines (Esquire, Mademoiselle, Vogue) and under a contract for the government of Mexico, for whom he photographed the 1968 Summer Olympics. He also produced cover art for music albums (The Police and Richard Barone). His portraiture goes against the norm, because he features his subjects in natural settings, instead of in a studio.

Though he has not been involved in the realm of gay rights, his photography often addresses gay themes. He is noted for two innovations in artistic photography, which he developed in the 1960s and 1970s. First, he used a series of photographs to tell a story (Sequences, pub. 1970), and second, wrote text by hand above or below his photographs, giving information that the image itself could not convey (examples below).

    The most beautiful part of a man’s body
    I think it must be there,
    where the torso sits on and, into the hips,
    those twin delineating curves,
    feminine in grace, girdling the trunk,
    guiding the eyes downwards
    to their intersection,
    the point of pleasure. (1986)

The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved
It had been declared illegal by the law
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain
It never occurs to him to break the law.

His work is in demand and highly collectible. Elton John is one of the high profile collectors of Michals’ photographs.

Michals grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh), to a Slovak immigrant family. Determined not to follow his father into the steel mills, he left home at seventeen on scholarship to the University of Denver and, after two years in the Army (driving tanks in Germany), took up residence in New York City, where he has lived a not quite quiet life for many decades, working his way into the textbooks of photographic history.

His photographs are highly manipulated, moody and often philosophical. Traditional photographers were aghast when Michals began writing directly onto his prints in his signature scrawl, thus creating an artistic scandal. Nevertheless, his work has been exhibited all over Europe and the U.S., and his globetrotting career is the envy of most professional photographers.

When The New Yorker hired him, at age 72, to photograph gay activist Larry Kramer, Michals revisited the house where he was born in McKeesport. The experience led to a book, “The House I Once Called Home” (2003 ), which Duane refers to as a “photographic memoir with verse”.

Michals lives in the Grammercy Park neighborhood of New York City with architect Fred Gorree, his partner of 53 years.

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