Drawing in large part from historical themes in art, literature, religion and photography, Joel-Peter Witkin constructs fantasies around fragments of contemporary life. Often beginning with sketches and drawings, Witkin creates elaborate stages, backdrops and props before bringing his subjects into the controlled and often highly choreographed studio environments.
Witkin’s subjects are from the darker side of the real world. Freaks, transexuals, dwarfs, fetuses, cadavers and laboratory animals form the basis of Witkin’s work. The work in this exhibition has been completed in the past two years, since his travelling exhibition of forty photographs appeared at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1985. His recent work has a more direct connection with individual circumstance and what Witkin refers to as “conditions of being.”
In addition to Witkin’s atypical subject matter, he also processes his prints untraditionally. Scratching and drawing on the negatives, Witkin then prints through a tissue, selectively toning and bleaching the final prints, thus producing seductive images of heightened “object quality.” This veling of the image and layering of historical and religious themes, lures the viewer into the picture, only to be abruptly drawn back into reality of the present and of the real-photographic image.
Witkin’s work raises questions and comments upon many issues of contemporary culture, while at the same time challenging our ideas about the nature of the photographic medium itself.