Witkin, Joel-Peter 1939-
WITKIN, Joel-Peter 1939-
PERSONAL: Born September 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, NY. Education: Cooper Union, B.F.A., 1974; University of New Mexico, M.A., 1976, M.F.A., 1986.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Pace/MacGill, 32 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Independent photographer, 1956—; worked as color photo printer, New York, NY, 1958-61; owner of an artwork photography business, New York, NY, 1964-70; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, instructor in photography, 1976-81. Visiting lecturer in photography at numerous universities and institutes throughout U.S. beginning 1981. Military service: U.S. Army, 1961-64, served as a combat photographer in Texas and Europe.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grants from Creative Artists, 1974, Ford Foundation, 1977, National Endowment for the Arts, 1981, 1986, 1992, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1986; First Prize, Art/Quest National Photography Competition, 1986; Art Matters Photography Grant, 1986; Chevalier Des Arts et de Lettres, 1990.
Gods of Earth and Heaven, Twelvetrees Press (Pasadena, CA), 1989.
Witkin (exhibition catalog), Galerie Baudoin Lebon (Paris, France), 1991.
(Editor) Harm's Way: Lust & Madness, Murder &Mayhem, Twin Palms Publishers (Santa Fe, NM), 1994.
(Photographer) The Bone House, text by Eugenia Parry, Twin Palms Publishers (Santa Fe, NM), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals, including Infinity and Aura.
SIDELIGHTS: Joel-Peter Witkin's images of death and mutilation have been called macabre, exploitive, and outrageous. According to one London Times critic, reviewing a Witkin exhibit, "It's possible that Witkin's photos are right up your street, but only if your street has been the scene of a multiple pile-up and is littered with legless accident victims and deformed corpses." But that is clearly not the whole story. As an Times critic wrote, "The strange case of Joel-Peter Witkin would not be so controversial if his tableaux remained crudely repellent. As it is, the best of them can attain a stillness that is sublime as well as troublesome, as though their function is, through long exposure, to draw the sting of the very nightmares which they have conjured."
Witkin's subjects have included transvestism, bestiality, and necrophilia, often combined with religious iconography and mythological symbolism, an unusual synthesis of shocking images and subtle symbolism. Reviewing The Bone House in Library Journal, Eric Bryant wrote, "Witkin explains . . . that 'I consider myself a portraitist; not of people, but conditions of being.'" Harm's Way: Lust & Madness, Murder & Mayhem, an anthology edited by Witkin, brings together images of murder, pornography, and insanity, ranging from old police photos to newer tabloid images. According to a reviewer in Afterimage, "The selection principles go unstated, but they're evident enough, since the pictures have the unmistakable stamp of Witkin's aesthetic. Many of these subjects would surely have found their way into Witkin's photographs, if only they hadn't had the misfortune to die long ago."
Witkin himself has commented on his photos, "I make this work in the hope that we, or some other form, will see this work as part of the history of a diverse and desperate time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Afterimage, summer, 1996, David L. Jacobs, review of Harm's Way, p. 8.
Library Journal, April 1, 1999, Eric Bryant, review of The Bone House, p. 93.
Times (London, England), March 14, 1998, Alan Franks, "Freakshow: Interview," p. 34; March 24, 1998, Joe Joseph, "Snapshots of an Altogether Different World," p. 51.*