Well, today is my birthday. I’ve never actually written that on this blog that I’ve had now for eight years, but it is. It is my birthday.
I did something really interesting for my birthday this year and I guess this milestone should be matched up with another. I saw an exhibit by a photographer named Duane Michals. The name might not particularly ring any bells, but Duane Michals played a huge role in me even becoming a photographer.
In 1996, when I was a college freshman (so now everyone knows the age I turned today), I was taking a class called History of Photography with a man called Bill Yeager. Yeah, I remember his name. He had this ponytail and wore jeans to class and was generally my model for a man. (The actual one with a ponytail came later).
One day Bill (I tried to call him Professor Yeager once but it didn’t exactly work) told us that Duane Michals, some kind of photographer was coming to campus and that we could get a couple of extra credit points if we went.
I walked into the room and Duane Michals was talking rapidly and pointing at people in the audience and making fun of them. It was kind of hilarious. At the time, I had very long hair, nearly down to my waist and I had just washed it and it was raining so my hair was wet. This mildly crazy individual was speaking in front of an assembled group of college students and suddenly he picked me. Well, he picked on me for twirling my hair. He said “you with the hair twirling, stop it!!!” I felt kind of honored and not embarrassed at all. Really funny.
Duane spent the rest of the speech yelling at random people in the audience, but he did say some pretty profound things. He said one thing that I remember to this day, that in photography it is important to have a point of view, something to say, a feeling. Up until then, I thought that if I wanted to be a photographer, I’d have to know the technical side of photography and of course how to print. According to Duane, all I’d have to do is find my voice and my style and what I wanted to say.
From that point, I decided to become a photographer. It was great to see his exhibit today. There were so many photos in the exhibit that carry a lot of deep meaning for me.
This is a photograph that will break your heart. On it, it says that the father had promised the son to write him a special letter all of his life where he told him a secret. The letter was supposed to contain the love the father had never given to the son. The first time I ever saw it, I was in the class with Bill Yeager and Bill Yeager went right past the photo and said “I don’t read this one.” Deep inside of him, somehow there was some kind of unexpressed love that he had apparently never gotten from his father. It was a powerful and subtle moment that even now I have never forgotten.
This is a picture of Sting that was featured in the Police album “Synchronicity.” I went out and bought the album right after I saw Duane Michals. Albums, CDs. Probably from a Sam Goody. Damn that was a long time ago. Anyway, I listened to that CD for the next year. I was listening to it when I went to Denmark about a year later and it was kind of the soundtrack for my life over there. Including the bit with the ponytail….
And finally there are photos I took of the exhibit. Now I have my own style, I can express what I want using a camera and it all kind of started from that rain stained day so long ago in an auditorium in upstate New York: