Digital Photo Pro

Duane Michals: Empty New York

Travel to the Soviet Union during the darkest days of the Cold War as an American was unusual, but for Duane Michals, the unusual has proved to be the norm. Throughout his career, the highly regarded fine-art photographer has embraced the commercial world and scoffed at the idea that it’s “selling out.”

In 1964-’65, the Pennsylvania-born New York City transplant explored the streets of his adopted home, at times when the city was virtually void of foot and vehicular traffic. His almost “Twilight Zone” view of the Big Apple allows us to study this unique metropolis without any human distractions.

Most of the images from these early, camera-in-hand urban expeditions have laid dormant until the publication of Empty New York (Enitharmon Editions), a time capsule of sorts opened up in 2019, unveiling a city frozen in time just as Eugène Atget, one of Michals’ heroes, commemorated Paris in the early years of the 20th century.

Digital Photo Pro: What’s the concept behind Empty New York?

Duane Michals: In 1964, I was just wettingmy whistle in photography. I ran into the work of Atget. I began to see an Atget print here and an Atget print there. I was arrested by their beauty and solitude.

Simultaneously, I was also looking at the French painter Balthus. There’s a painting of a

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