The reason for buying a print.

by Tim Soter

‘Rene Magritte Asleep’  by Duane Michals       silver gelatin print         10/25

In August of 1965, thirty-three year old photographer Duane Michals journeyed to connect with someone who greatly inspired him.  Arriving in Brussels after an introduction was gained through a friend of a friend he pushed the buzzer marked Magritte and ended up spending several days with the painter and his wife.

“During the entire visit I felt (…) awkward and silent.  Not just because my French was as bad as his English but silent in the way we are around people of whom we are in awe; intimidated by our respect for them, and so pleased to be there that we don’t want to jeopardize our dream of being there.  It was  privileged moment.

Being older, I understand a little better, I know that there are some few people in our lives who are great givers, not just mentors in the usual sense.  They open our lives, give without taking and free us in the process.  … The power and integrity of Magritte’s vision had brought me here to thank him.”

I had wanted to live with one of Michals photographs for a long time, as he has inspired my thinking in the same way, and been as generous.  I had written him a letter several years ago, mentioning his Magritte experience and inviting myself to his home/studio which he accepted.  We had a great two hour conversation, he shared new work with me, signed some books and hustled me out the door politely.  I didn’t take a single photo because I wanted enjoy the experience and didn’t want to “jeopardize the dream” as he has astutely noted.

I bought this print after spending months looking through Michals’s books (of which there are more than thirty,) going back and forth with the gallery to the studio, who would get back to the gallery and then back to me.  I would give them a few selects of different photos and they would return with their availability and price.  My very first choice This Photograph is My Proof’ I thought was a more esoteric selection, but it turned out to be quite a favorite, valued at $40,000.

After many go arounds I started picking exclusively from his book, ‘A Visit with Magritte’ as there were some that were available and in my price range.  When I learned that ‘Magritte Sleeping’ was one of those I literally couldn’t see any other images in the book.  I still can’t believe that this one was available.  I think it transcends the wonderful double exposure image that are most associated with their collaboration for those few days.  For me this photo shows just how imaginative Michals can be when creating a portrait.  No flash, no gimmick (this is not a reference to double exposure) just imaginative thinking recorded by  a device that’s remained relatively unchanged until the digital era.

I asked Michals whether or not Magritte was really sleeping or if this were staged and he replied that the painter was indeed sleeping and took a nap every day after his lunch time meal.  “Here was a man who painted dreams, and here he is asleep himself dreaming. I would love to see his dreams – I never asked him what he dreamt about.”  And that is why is such a wonderful image.  Beautifully executed, the dignity of a painter who sleeps (and paints) in his suit dreaming.  Reverently shot by a photographer who he trusted enough to get that close after only a day or two of meeting him.  Without language to translate his intent.

Why live with a print?

I had originally seen this photo in the book ‘A Visit with Magritte’ published by Matrix in 1981.  The book has since been updated by publisher Steidl in 2011.  The image in the Matrix book shows more detail and is a flatter image which I prefer – the Steidl version crops it a bit and is more contrasty, with the blacks blocking up.

the Matrix edition of ‘Rene Magritte Asleep’, 1981

The Steidl version of ‘Rene Magritte Asleep’, 2011

Both are certainly adequate but it wasn’t until I first held the print in my hands that I was able to see the actually image.  THE object.  This print was beautifully executed sometime in the very early eighties, the printer is unknown.  It’s a difficult print to reach in the darkroom because Magritte’s suit is so black as is the wall behind him.  Only by viewing the actual print can one see the texture in his suit jacket or the separation of the outline of the jacket from the wall behind him.  It quite worth the price and it makes the ownership a special communique.  It’s the reason why there are museums of photography – because the internet and books are not the end.  The print is the object.

Detail of print, shot through glass

Thanks to Priscilla Caldwell at DC Moore gallery for making the purchase an enjoyable experience and for my good friend and artist Jefferson Hayman for expertly framing this piece.