Call it matter, or technique or process, it is nevertheless a physical manifestation of the invisible: the psyche, the spirit, or the soul. —Joel-Peter Witkin
Joel-Peter Witkin’s most recent photographs, created since his retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1996, continue to explore the spiritual realm as manifested within the physical realm and the structures – specifically religion, literature and the visual arts – with which humans have tried to understand those worlds. The grotesque, the bizarre and the shocking figures that populate his pictures are the means by which Witkin examines themes that persist throughout the history of art. The focus on various conditions and states of the physical forces us to consider the relative nature of beauty and hideousness, as well as laying bare our common mortality.
Often beginning with sketches and drawings, Witkin creates complicated scenes with backdrops and props before bringing his subjects into the 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 museums around the world, including the Louvre Museum, Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including four photography fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.