Joel-Peter Witkin

(b. 1939)

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(1939– )

American photographer, born in New York. He has developed a highly individual form of staged photography (see Photo-work), bringing to the fore human oddities and amputees, arranged to evoke Old Master paintings. The photographs have an elaborately aged look, which he achieves by roughening the negative and coating it with beeswax, bringing them close to the appearance of painting. In 1985 he advertised for models: ‘Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, pre-op transsexuals, bearded women, people with tails, horns, wings, reversed hands or feet, anyone born without arms, legs, eyes, breasts, genitals, ears, nose, lips. All people with unusually large genitals. All manner of extreme visual perversion. Hermaphrodites and teratoids (alive and dead). Anyone bearing the wounds of Christ.’ Most controversially his work has involved the manipulation of severed limbs and even corpses, as in The Kiss (1982), showing a man's head split down the middle and arranged so that the two halves look like a kissing couple. Witkin has commented ‘It is my sacred work, since what I make are my prayers’, although his work has been attacked by the religious right as blasphemous and by others as exploitative of its subjects.

Subjects: Art.

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