Joel Peter Witkin

A quick warning to all of you who have never heard of this photographer or who aren’t familiar with his work. It can be disturbing upon first viewing (or any viewing for that matter). But he is perfect for Halloween and he has become one of my favorite photographers (not sure what that says about me) so I thought I would share him with all of you! I was first exposed to Joel Peter Witkin in a gallery in Chelsea in Manhattan when I was a freshman in college. My teacher, Anthony, had asked our class to meet there and we were to spend the day viewing different photographers in various galleries in the city. I don’t even remember any other work I saw that day. I couldn’t tell you if his was the first or last show we saw. All I remember were his photographs. I remember being appalled and disgusted. I was 18 and had never really ventured outside of my safe suburban life in Littleton, CO where I grew up. I had only been living in NYC for a couple of weeks and had yet to really morph into the open minded liberal I have become. I remember my teacher not laughing at my response to the photographs but being rather amused at my reaction. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. I had never seen anything like this before. But in the weeks that followed I kept thinking about the work and I wanted to know more about the artist. I was told he lived in NM and would cross the border to get unclaimed corpses for his work. Apparently the authorities are much less strict about those things south of the boarder. I was told he lived on a ranch with his wife and her boyfriend. And of course this being 2001 I didn’t need to be told that the manipulation, the scratches and the brush strokes, were done to the negative. This being pre digital for the most part professional photographers were still using film. Something about his work resonates with me. I can imagine someday having one of his photographs hanging on the wall of my home. I am attracted to the darkness and the urge to look away but at the same time step in for a closer look. I am forever grateful to the teacher who showed me this work for the first time. I think that was a turning point for me when I left childhood behind and started on my path to becoming an artist.

I’ve posted some photos below and a link to his work as well as an interview with him that I found rather interesting. (This link has images and the article) (This comes complete with music; click on the main image to enter; click on images to view larger)



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