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© Michael Spano

Portrait of a Man, 1986

Artist: Michael Spano, American, b. 1949

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Composition: 35 3/16 x 26 3/4 in. (89.4 x 67.9 cm)
Sheet: 37 3/8 x 28 in. (94.9 x 71.1 cm)
Mat: 26 x 35 in. (66 x 88.9 cm)

Credit Line: Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase

Object Number: 89.6

Copyright: © Michael Spano

Not on view

Laurence Miller Gallery Inc., New York, New York, 1988

A native of New York City, Michael Spano received his MFA from Yale University in 1978, and has since exploited his personal experiences of living in New York within his large-scale, black-and-white photographs. Spano creates surreal images that are both mysterious and evocative by capturing his city-dwelling subjects within a nebulous urban environment. The fantastic imagery is further enhanced through his use of solarization. First noticed in daguerreotypes of the 1840s, solarization is caused by extreme overexposure of the negative during the development process. The result is a reversal of tones leaving the whole or part of the negative image as a positive, causing the finished photograph to have a metallic quality. Influenced by Man Ray and his exploration of solarization during the 1920s, Spano captures ordinary human subjects yet transforms them through this photographic technique into remarkably expressive images.


Portrait of a Man depicts an aging man rendered in profile, looking out toward the street. He, like many of Spano's subjects, is solitary, emphasizing the isolation of modern urban life. With a pensive expression, the man looks away from the camera, not engaging with the viewer. His furrowed brow, the veins on his temple, the wrinkles and creases of his jowl, and his thinning white hair remain clearly delineated. The solarization process is particularly evident in the reversal of the tones of his coat, marked by the silvery gray highlights and the crisp black outline of the form. Spano further manipulates the image by solarizing the buildings and trees. The dream-like quality is heightened by the narrow plane of focus, with both the man’s coat in the foreground and the structures behind him reduced to a blur. Were it not for the sharp focus of the man's head, it would almost appear that his entire form is melting into the background, reinforcing Spano’s concept of urban isolationism.