Joel-Peter Witkin was born in Brooklyn, New York, and lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Finding beauty within the grotesque, Witkin pursues the complex issue of how spirituality impacts our physical world. His fascination with other people’s physicality has inspired works that confronts our sense of beauty through people most often cast aside by society including dwarfs, androgynies, carcasses, hermaphrodites, amputees, fetishists and as he states //any living myth … anyone bearing the wounds of Christ.//
There are references to art history in Witkin´s photographs, including the works of Picasso, Balthus, Goya, Velásquez and Miro. He lets us gaze upon his created world, which is both frightening and fascinating, as he seeks to dismantle our preconceived notions about sexuality and physical beauty. Through his imagery, we gain a greater understanding about human difference and tolerance.
His work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions all over the world. At the beginning of his career, he was noticed by Edward Steichen, then head of the photograph collection at the MoMA, New York, who included his work in the 1959 exhibition “Great Photographs from the Museum Collection.” Mr. Witkin’s work is acquired by numerous public and private collections, such as Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, George Eastman House, Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Witkin works on several levels. Visiting medical schools, morgues and insane asylums around the world, he seeks out collaborators, who, in the end, represent the numerous personas of life as the artist himself. The artist begins each image by sketching in detail his ideas and arranging the scene before he gets into the studio to stage the elaborate tableaus.
Once photographed, Witkin turns to his holy house, scratching and piercing his negatives, transforming them into created images, rather than taken. Through printing, Witkin reinterprets his original ideain afinal act of adoration.
Joel-Peter Witkin lets us look into his created world, which is both frightening and fascinating, as he seeks to dismantle and challenge our preconceived notions about sexuality and physical beauty. Through his imagery, we gain agreater understanding about the human condition, difference and tolerance.