Research point – Duane Michals: “This Photograph is My Proof”.

Duane Michals is an influential American photographer who places text on top of, or close by, the photographs. The text is often hand written, giving a personal and intimate quality to the work.

This Photograph is my Proof (1974).

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself!

If I were to study this image prior to researching the work of Michals, I would have several questions. For example the couple appear to be posing, otherwise why would they be sitting facing the wall and looking straight into the camera? Did Michals set up the shot or did someone else capture the couple unawares in an intimate moment? The author’s hand written text implies a need to prove to himself, or maybe convince others, that there was a time “when things were still good”.

Without the text, the photograph could easily carry many different interpretations. The text aids and informs, and then asks the viewer to believe what they see “Look see for yourself!” Yet still the story is open ended – it  speaks of the past, love and proof. Is the author experiencing emotions of insecurity or loss? Was it unrequited love?

To answer my questions I looked closer at Michals work. He explained in 2007, “I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like.… My reality has entered a realm beyond observation…. Most photographers are always looking at life, they’re looking at surfaces … but unless a photographer transcends appearances … then it’s always going to just be mere description.”  I understand more as I read about his childhood; “My father drank and smoked a lot, and if I asked him a question, he would always say, ‘Go look it up.’ This led to Michals’ love of reading and the written word. Art, he says, should be vulnerable. Hand written text adds another dimension to his images, the interaction of words and images provides a sensitive and moving narrative. It is clever because one assumes the message must be true because it is so personal and transparent – or is it?

References [Accessed 12th July 2016]