Duane Michals – The Idiots Delight – Plaisirs Ridicules

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

It may not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Duane Michals extensive photographic career spanning 50+ years that he is visual storyteller with a wicked sense of humor. His latest photobook of visual puns, The Idiots Delight – Plaisirs Ridicules, is a brilliant concept and complemented by an equally brilliant book design that utilizes the inclusion of Michals handwritten text, an aspect that is a part of his visual processing.

The book’s design conceals the puns captions; thus, the reader has an opportunity to first guess as to what each pun is before opening the short inner pages to reveal the answer. In my opinion, many of the initial puns are not as hard to guess but these become more complex and difficult to fathom as the book progresses.  Similar to a book of crossword or Sudoku puzzles, easy at the beginning and then increasingly challenging. I suspect that this large book could become a favorite party game, a fun and humorous ice breaker. This book is Smyth sewn, thus a lay-flat presentation that will make it easy to use for the party crowd. There is an element of kitsch in his visual theater, leaning into what constitutes ‘Camp’ art that is over-the -top as so obvious, and per our friends at Wikipedia, a visual style that is closely associated with gay culture, that dates back to the early 1900’s.

The short inner pages that conceal the Michals handwritten captions are well designed and printed such that these short page spreads are almost invisible regardless of which direction the reader pages through this book as illustrated in the first three interior book spreads below. Which in due course in illustrating this aspect of this clever book design results in one of the captions being revealed. Nevertheless, to stay in the game with you, none of the other captions will be revealed in this review. Have fun.

Michals has staged a series of very playful cinematic stills that are enjoyable and pure entertainment. The use of graphic black and white photographs adds to the cinematic effect. The Camp pun that is probably the most over the top is one extended gatefold that is comprised of eight pages, with the pun starting on the front side and ending on the verso, a page spread that extends four-and-half feet. Thus, the last illustration below is a truncated view of this extended gatefold. Yes, very Camp, such “banality, mediocrity, artifice, [and] ostentation … so extreme as to amuse or have a perversely sophisticated appeal”.

You will probably want to acquire this book, engage in Michals visual antics and then invite friends over and let the games begin. This reviewer is one idiot who is very delighted.


Other book reviews of Duane Michals featured previously on Photobook Journal: Duane Michals – 50, Duane Michals – Portraits.


Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal


The Idiots Delight – Plaisirs Ridicules, Duane Michals

Photographer: Duane Michals, born McKeesport, PA and resides in New York City, NY

Publisher: Editions Bessard, Paris, France, copyright 2021

Text: English & French

Hard covers, black and white lithography, Smyth sewn, books are numbered in a first edition of 600.

Photobook Designer: -SYB- (Sybren Kuiper)


Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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