Saturday, July 25, 2009

Responding to Anonymous

Duane Michals, Shopping with Mother.

In my post San Francisco Faces, Anonymous commented on one of the portraits (left), comparing him to a defeated Estragon waiting for a "black Godot," perhaps an allusion to promises of stimulation that will never come, made to a nation that has become an inert waiting room.

The comment of Anonymous made me think of photographer Duane Michals. I've been wanting to write about Duane Michals for some time now. He is a poet whose gift for storytelling was too expansive to be contained by the conventions of still photography. In a medium that proclaimed the image superior to the written word, Michals found the single image inadequate to convey his ideas. At first, he started layering his pictures; then he shot them in a series like frames in a silent movie. When that wasn't enough, he started to scribble stories and poems on the pictures, misspellings and all. In the end, he got rid of the image altogether and simply wrote on photographic paper.

"Shopping with Mother" is one of those imageless pictures, and was the picture that Anonymous made me think about after I read his/her post.
Shopping with Mother

When I was a little boy, my mother often took me shopping with her, and our last stop was always Cox's dress shop. She would set me down in a chair surrounded by our purchases and say, "Sit there. I'll be right back." And off she would vanish into the dress racks. For the first five minutes it was a relief just to be seated, but a terrible anxiety began to grow within me that she would never return. I had been abandoned! In 1932 God dropped me off on this planet and said, "Sit there, I'll be right back." Well I have [been] sitting here now for forty six years, and the bastard hasn't returned. For all I know he's off in Andromeda trying on dresses and has forgotten all about me. And I know he is never coming back.
Curator Marco Livingstone said that in Duane Michal's work, God is a sorrowful absence, "the source of profound disappointment and his sense of existential aloneness . . . an unseen force or character who never arrives, like Beckett's Godot, but whose rumoured existence still scratches at his consciousness."

eman59, Waiting for Godot, Oakland, March 2008.

1 comment: