Joel-Peter Witkin is an American photographer whose work often deals with themes such as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and outsiders such as dwarfs, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people. Witkin’s complex tableaux often recall religious episodes or famous classical paintings.
- Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939 with a twin brother and a stillborn triplet sister.
- When young, his parents divorced due to religious differences of Judaism and Roman Catholicism.
- At the age of 6, he witnessed a car accident in which a little girl’s head was decapitated and rolled to his feet on the way to church. *
- Initiated into sex with a pre-op transsexual.
- Worked as a war photographer during the Vietnam War.
- Attained Bachelor of Arts in Sculpture and Master of Fine Arts in Photography.
* May be made-up according his mother to justify his vision and sensibility.
Some of Witkin’s works, namely those with corpses in them, have had to be created in Mexico in order to get around restrictive US laws. Because of the transgressive nature of the contents of his pictures, his works have been labeled exploitativeand have sometimes shocked public opinion.
His techniques include scratching the negative, bleaching or toning the print, and using a hands-in-the-chemicals printing technique. This experimentation began after seeing a 19th-century ambrotype of a woman and her ex-lover who had been scratched from the frame.