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American Photographer | Born: 1939
Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York City) is an American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work often deals with such themes as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people. Witkin's complex tableaux often recall religious episodes or classical paintings.
Witkin was born to a Jewish father and Roman Catholic mother. His twin brother, Jerome Witkin, and son Kersen Witkin, are also painters. Witkin's parents divorced when he was young because they were unable to overcome their religious differences. He attended grammar school at Saint Cecelia's in Brooklyn and went on to Grover Cleveland High School. Between 1961 and 1964 he was a war photographer documenting the Vietnam war. Going freelance in 1967, he became the official photographer for City Walls Inc. He attended Cooper Union in New York where he studied sculpture, attaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974. After Columbia University granted him a scholarship, he ended his studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he became Master of Fine Arts.
Author: Joel-Peter Witkin, Otto M. Urban
Publisher: Arbor Vitae
Year: 2012 - Pages: 164
Joel-Peter Witkin: Vanitas offers a concise survey of one of the most controversial photographers alive. Since the late 1970s, Witkin's black-and-white portraits and still-lifes of hermaphrodites, body parts, severed heads, mutilations and similar themes have inevitably provided shock fodder to the religious right, while seeming to evoke an easy relationship to ideas of decadence and morbidity. For Witkin, the goal is simple: "I wanted my photographs to be as powerful as the last thing a person sees or remembers before death." Witkin's photographs offer up examples of life's extremities as unblinking confrontations with mortality, whose power derives not merely from their content but from the keen compositional instincts governing that content. Witkin's gift for still life and his use of religious motifs such as crucifixion and sainthood have been nourished by his appreciation of the likes of Francisco Goya, Odilon Redon and Hieronymus Bosch, whose examples he has translated for the concerns of the present. Witkin's photographs have made a colossal impact upon contemporary culture, influencing artists such as the Chapman Brothers and Erwin Olaf, musicians such as Diamanda Galás and Trent Reznor, and the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, among many others. Vanitas provides a cross-section of the artist's work from the 1970s to the present. In addition to photographs, it includes many lesser-known drawings and paintings, as well as Witkin's most recent, previously unpublished photographs. A bilingual (English/Czech) text by the art historian Otto M. Urban summarizes the development of Witkin's life and work.