Potential of suffering
Joel-Peter Witkin is a photographer who takes his idea from historic paintings to reveal the potential of suffering in human conditions.
He worked as a war photographer between 1961 and 1964 in the Vietnam War. In 1967 Witkin decided to start free lance photography. He became the official photographer for City Walls Inc.
He ended up studying at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he became a Master of Fine Arts.
Witkin claims that his vision started off by an incident he witnessed when he was only a child. A car accident that occurred in front of the house in which he saw a little girls head had fallen off. "It happened on a Sunday when my Mother was escorting me and my twin brother me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking down the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries. The accident involved three cars and all families. Somehow, the confusion, I was no longer holding my mothers hand. At the place where I was stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the over turned cars. It stopped at the curb where I was stood. It was a head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face to speak to it. Before I could someone carried me away".
He also claims the difficulties in his family were another influence for his work too. Witkin favourite artist is a man called Giotto. His photographic techniques he got from an artist called E.J. Bellocq. Most of Witkin's work is from corpses which have had to be created in Mexico to get around the restricted US laws. Some of Witkins techniques included scratching of the negatives, bleaching, or toning the print and using the hand in the chemicals printing techniques. This experimentation began after seeing a 19th century ambrotype of a woman and ex lover who have been scratched away from the frame.
In 1939 the famous photographer called Joel-Peter Witkin was born in Brooklyn on the September 13th. Witkin was one of the triplets but his sister died before birth leaving his mother with only two baby boys. The dissimilar religious background was from his parents. His Farther was Jewish and his mother was a devout Catholic. This led to his parents to divorce when Witkin and his brother were very young.
Witkin was raised in a deeply religious atmosphere by his Mother and he obtained his first camera while he still was a teenager. In the 1950's he bought a twin-lens reflex Rolleicord. He read the manuals and taught himself how to use the camera.
His earliest camera assignment was really unusual; it was based on unsettling experiences from his childhood, his first ever image was of a rabbi claiming he has spoken to god. Later on he took his camera to the freak show in New York at Coney Island by the request of his brother.
"Sometimes I say to myself that my work is smarter than I am". Witkin has this idea that his work creates the images themselves instead of him but how can your own work be smarter than you are? But he does have this idea that it is.
Witkin attended sculpture classes at the Cooper Union School of Fine Art. Between 1958 and 1967 he worked for various commercial photographers but then the military interrupted with his work. Witkin ended up being drafted into the army but with the hope of him retaining some control over how he would be used, he enlisted for three years and worked as a combat photographer.
His work included recording on film the bodies of soldiers that committed suicide or died in training accidents. "It was not the death that was disturbing but rather the human capacity for institutionalizing violence".
In 1967 Witkin worked as a photographer for City walls Inc which is an organization that produces murals in the five boroughs of New York. He returned to Cooper Union after the army. In the same year he was awarded a fellowship in poetry at Columbia University. It was during the same period that Witkin began his personal exploration of Eastern religions. He also went to India to study yoga and photographing sacred sites. In 1975 Witkin started his graduate studies in photography and art history at the University of New Mexico.
Cintra Wilsons Article
Cintra Wilson has known Witkin to be a "True born Pervert" because of all the images he has taken in the past of the dead which in her opinion it's sick and twisted. Based on Witkins images she wrote a while article on the weird and the freaks like from people at Coney Island freak show or just people in general. "We often look away when confronted with imagery of the sick, the dead and the dying" Which is a link to Witkins work. Most people since the nineteenth century has had a brisk trade in such photographs of what people call "The Others".
Cintra Wilson is a journalist from San Francisco where she spent several years performing and writing stage. She also moved to New York for obvious reasons so she could go further on with her writing. When she wrote the article on Joel-Peter Witkin she was very opinionative on his work, I personally think she was right because only a true born pervert would take pictures of dead naked people but it is obviously that Cintra Wilson thinks it is wrong to do; I feel that a lot people would agree with her.
Press Release - Heart Beat Dust
"Heart Beats Dust" is Witkins infamous style with the body of still life. Witkin creates narrative and fictional scenarios while exploring relationships between art history and photography. Witkins images are powerful and challenging to the viewer. His sick images make the viewer think "what is he on?" Or they could be influenced by his work and take it into account and take their own images. Witkin has said that his work are the "Themes what constitutes human existence, history, human beauty. The work has at its very core the evidence of conscience presented as photographic metaphor. Witkin remarked; "I strive to create experiences no one has seen before and which no one has felt before".
He personally has created images that no one has seen or experienced before because while you look at the image on the right hand side no one takes image of dead peoples heads while they're head has been on a plate which could either impress people or disgust them.
Regardless of Witkin's habit of borrowing from the history of painting, his work is just as gripping as always. Through his methodology and consistency, he reminds us that a lingering practice is not necessarily a bad trait, but rather a ritual that grows deeper and more meaningful with time.
The question still remains whether Witkin will be reminded as an artist let alone a Christian. As far as I am concerned he should survive as a document as a typical representative of the SM-epoch of the eighties not by accident the period in which the so called 'Great Stories' were abandoned, only to leave room for neo-liberalism, an outdated forerunner or worse still for a return of the Gods who -despite Nietzsche seem to be alive and well.
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