04 Try 1The Family Duane Michaels photographed by Jordan Weitzman, NYC, 2011.

Doorbells



I was just going to drop the letter that I had written for him in his mailbox, but when I saw his name on the buzzer, I decided to ring the bell. I can still feel that adrenaline rush. A little presumptuous I thought, but my intentions were good and genuine. The door clicked open.

“I have a delivery for Duane Michals,” I said.

“You a bailiff?” he answered.

“No, no”, I replied, smiling anxiously, “I just have a letter to deliver.”

“Hold on, I’m coming down. You’re sure I’m not being subpoenaed?”

I laughed to myself, somewhat in disbelief. He graciously accepted the letter, and told me he’d have a look and get back to me. I left his place feeling awestruck. I was a complete stranger, yet I felt like I knew him. It’s funny how great artists can make you feel intimately connected to them through their work.

A few days later, after I had returned to Montreal, the phone rang.

“Jordan – Duane Michals here. Did they arrest you yet?”

“Sorry?” I said.

“Did they find out yet that you were with me?” he joked. He proceeded to invite me to meet him the next time I was in New York. He had done something similar with Renee Magritte 50 years ago, and admired my precociousness.

I was getting ready to travel to India, and would not be able to get back to New York before I left. Upon returning, I gave him a call, but got his machine. “You’ve reached Duane Michals. If this is Dr. Frankenstein, I want to know if I should be concerned or excited about the erection I’ve had for the past 20 hours!”

The Family THe Annunciation by Duane Michals, 2011.

He invited me to a lecture he was doing at Jay Maisel’s studio and then out for dinner. The next day we met at his place and sat and talked in his library, surrounded by a collection of books ranging from De Chirico to the Meaning of Dreams. Very few photography books. We talked for quite a while and the hours flew by. The conversation went all over the place, from family to work, to stories about the likes of the famous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom he had made a very interesting portrait of. He set up the frame in an alleyway, and as he took the picture, a delivery boy in a white coat serendipitously entered the frame, foreshadowing Pasolini’s tragic and mysterious murder by a seventeen year old hustler a little while after. He told stories about John Szarkowski at MoMa in the 60′s, likening him to Louis B. Mayer in Hollywood in the 30′s. We even got into an argument over Eggleston! When I asked him to sign one of his books for me, he inscribed it “To Jordan and his favorite tricycle,” alluding to Eggleston’s famous picture.

He was serious and funny at the same time. A joke that I still can’t figure out: “How could you tell the difference between the boys and girls in Bruce Weber’s Studio? A crowbar.”

The Family Duane Michaels photographed by Jordan Weitzman, NYC, 2011.

Afterwards he took me into his laundry room – where the light was better – and showed me proofs of photographs he had recently made. He also read me poetry from his book Eros and Thanatos. After reading one verse, he pointed to the accompanying picture of a man under the sheets in bed: “That’s not a prop, you know. He just had an enormous cock!”

At one point, when the moment felt right, I asked him if he would mind if I took a few photos. I shot a few frames of him in front of his vast library; people’s libraries are always so interesting to me. “That’s not an interesting photograph,” he said, “I have an idea. Through this window.” He went into his storage room – filled with negative binders and file cabinets – and opened the door to his small courtyard. The series resulted; a gift from Duane.

As we were walking up the stairs to say goodbye, one of his famous sequences, “A Man Going to Heaven”, suddenly popped into my head, and without thinking, I asked him if I could take one more picture of him standing at the top of the staircase. Was it the same staircase as the original sequence? Something stopped me from asking. I only noticed the symbolic value after I developed the film. I was at the bottom of the staircase looking up at the master.

The Family Duane Michaels photographed by Jordan Weitzman, NYC, 2011.

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Jordan Weitzman is a Montreal based photographer.To see more of his work visit his website @ www.jordanweitzman.com Listed below is a video profile on Duane Michaels that accompanied his exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

Duane Michals visits the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam on occasion of his exhibition.