Queer Space: Duane Michals’ Photographic Series “Things Are Queer”
Duane Michals’ black and white photographic series “Things are Queer” (1973) begins with the photograph of a bathroom that is framed by the negative space between bathtub, sink, and toilet. At first, it is these bright white objects that we see, but we are soon drawn into the dark spaces in-between as an effect of the framing. A curious tension immediately emerges in our visual experience, as the white objects hauntingly float in the dark space. This is a “push and pull” effect created by the play between light and dark in the image.
The next image in the series, taken from a slightly different angle, makes it look as if the sink has migrated closer to the bathtub when human legs and feet are introduced into the left side of the frame. The vertical line on the floor, laid down at a “dutch” angle, forms a playful, kaleidoscopic triangle with the bathtub and vertical foot. And with this and all the objects seemingly crowded on the left side of the image, the right hand side of the image seems to float up visually. Our sense of balance is being toyed with, and here we may want to tilt our heads left in order to “straighten out” the image.
In the next photographs, these visual shenanigans continue. Not only do we realize that the bathroom scene is a miniature, relative to the gigantic human we now see hunched over in the image (too tall to fit the frame), but we also come to realize that the previous image is a photograph that is being held by a human hand.
All we see of the hand is one huge thumb, in comparison to which the first two scenes (previously a whole world!) seems tiny. The next image pans out from this scene, revealing that the thumb belongs to that of a man who is reading a book in which the aforementioned image is found. Panning further out still, the man’s context emerges: he is reading his book from inside a corridor into which bright light is flooding. He reading against the light.