6 May 2019
The artist I am going to be talking about today is Joel Peter Witkin.
His work is focused primarily on death as well as the marginalized people in society. The subjects in his photographs range from corpses to disfigured humans, intersex people, people with dwarfism and basically anything that isn’t considered normal.
His work is the type that makes you look deeply inside yourself. If you are uncomfortable then you should be asking yourself why that is.
He says he brings light to a dark and confusing place. Witkin’s work embraces death and disfiguration for what it is. It isn’t morbid, its reality. The medium he mostly works in is darkroom photography.
Joel Peter Witkin’s life has been surrounded by death in ways most of us don’t experience. Apparently, one day while out with his mother after church there was a car accident in which a little girl’s decapitated head rolled near Witkin and his mother and he tried to pick it up.
Another significant event was his mother’s pregnancy. Witkin was born a twin but his mother miscarried a third child that would have been their triplet. He comments on this saying that he experienced death before he experienced life.
He was also a war photographer in the Vietnam War in the early 60s. He didn’t set out early in life with an interest in photography. He was actually a bus boy at the age of 41.
Witkins work shook up the era at the time. The early 60s was very much about the self and love. The odd and weird were casted away, as if they didn’t exist. Witkin brought all of the reality people were ignoring and put it right in their faces.
This image is called the Kiss. Witkin says this is one of his most famous pieces. While studying at the University of New Mexico he was given a cadaver to photograph.
The cadaver was a man’s head. As he was working with the head it fell into two pieces because it was bisected laterally. A lot of people think Witkin bisected but he did not.