Confrontational and provocative, the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin engage the viewer in a dialogue about the power and purpose of the photographic image. By combining the brazenly real with the meticulously staged, by daring us to accept the unacceptable, Witkin works to dispel the myth that the camera records an objective reality. He allows the viewer to wonder about the veracity of both the photograph and the subject presented in it. The presence and control of the creator is always evident in Witkin’s images.
Witkin is concerned with the physical realm, the spiritual realm and the structures- specifically religion, literature and the visual arts- with which humans have tried to understand those worlds. His frequent allusions to the themes and iconography of Western high art are both continuations and revisions of that tradition. The grotesque, the bizarre and the shocking figures that populate Witkin’s pictures are the means with which Witkin examines themes common throughout art history. The focus on various conditions and states of the physical–both human and animal–forces us to consider the relative nature of beauty and hideousness, as well as laying bare our common mortality.
Witkin controls all aspects of photographic production. Often beginning with sketches and drawings, he creates complicated scenes with backdrops and props before bringing his subjects into a highly choreographed studio environment. After shooting, Witkin scratches and draws on the negatives, then prints them through a tissue selectively toning and bleaching the final prints, thereby producing a rich, baroque aesthetic.
Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs have been exhibited in museum and gallery exhibitions around the world. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including four photography fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.