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Joel-Peter Witkin - The Unique Photographic Artist

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Shaped by his past Witkin is a unique Photographic Artist. When you view Joel-Peter Witkin photographs, you either love or hate them. Witkin according to Elena Martinique depicts a “darker, often grotesque or gruesome view of society”. (WideWall) I find Witkin to be intriguing; provoking a profound wonder of life, bringing light and life to those that society claims to be social outcasts.

Witkin a twin born 1939 in Brooklyn, New York to a Jewish father and Roman-Catholic mother whom later divorced due to religious indifference: however, raised by his mother in a strict religious home; became a self – taught photographer at a young age. Influenced by I believe Jewish-Christian iconography Witkin first photograph was of a rabbi who claimed to have spoken to God. (Bard). During his early years of photography, his brother had encouraged him to go to freak shows and take photos.

Witkin enlisted in the army services in 1961 to 1964. Witkin stationed in Fort Hood Texas and twice in Germany, interestingly spent time in the Mojave Desert (Mario). Witkin obtained his B.F.A. in 1974 and received his M.A. in 1976 and M.F.A. in 1981.

Some say the Witkin is a surrealist he denies this, “My Art is about Love, I am a dramatist and romantic and my work is about showing that we live in a diverse world. People are different but still need to be loved.” (Unknown) Watkins has drawn inspiration from artist such as Picasso, Goya and Velasquez. The early Daguerreotype process and the works of E.J. Bellocq have inspired his work. Watkins typically starts with a hand drawing and then uses either live models or body parts to create is vision typically shooting two –three photographs. The completeness of the photograph completed in the darkroom where he still does scratching and piercing to the negatives. His work looks painted verses photographed.

Las Meninas New Mexico, 1987 by Joel Peter Witkin is a contemporary version of Diego Velazques, Las Meninas, 1656. Witkin’s was commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Culture to create this work. The original painting depicts the young Infanta Margaret Theresa surrounded by her entourage. Witkin’s photograph kept the leading figure of Infanta Margaret Theresa depicting her with half a body and wire cage, possibly this is his version of the skirt worn in the original by Diego. The leading figure appears surrounded by an entourage of a different kind. Animals, half bodies persons, persons barely clothed. The parents seen in the mirror as above onlookers see the events. God appears as if the over-looker, the representation of redemption and the end of suffering and confusion. Therefore, in the version that Witkin has created there are no body parts or deformed beings just an illusion to them. Witkin brings life to the “oddities in humanity”

Joel-Peter Witkins a uniquely creative photographic genius not a dark macabre artist. Witkins continues to create photographs depicting the unusual and creating life and giving them individuality seeing their inner beauty not the horrific images that society sees “showing compassion for human weakness” (Marino, Objective Eye). Many will continue to despise this unique photographer, but with greater understanding about his artistic vision; others may begin to see his beauty in others as he sees it.

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