Thursday, October 20, 2011

Joel-Peter Witkin

Every now and then I have to look at Joel-Peter Witkin. On one side, every time photographers that are willing to get dirty with film and darkroom are less and less common. On the other hand, Witkin has a number of obsessions: "freaks of every kind, idiots, dwarves, giants, deformations, pre-op trans-sexuals ... All the people who were born without arms, legs, eyes, breasts, genitals, ears, noses, lips. All those with unusually large genitals, dominas and slaves...", that's the prime matter of his art. Those that society would rather hide.

Sometimes, in his quest for the dark side of reality, he also uses corpses. His photographs are carefully composed scenes and installations, some times imitating or referencing classic paintings (such as The Fornarina by Raphael, seen in La Giovanissima below, or The Birth of Venus referenced here as well). 

He also uses alternative dark room techniques to create a timeless look on his photos (which somehow makes me think of Von Gloeden). 

Is his work controversial? Sadist? Christian? Merely illustration? When I see it, I think of Baudelaire's projected epilogue to "Les Fleurs du Mal": "Car, j'ai de chaque chose extrait la quintessence,
Tu m'as donné ta boue et j'en ai fait de l'or." ("For I have extracted from every thing the quintessence, You have given me your mud and I have turned it into gold.")

La Giovanissima

Gods of Earth and Heaven


Nudum sequi nudum Christi (Naked follow the naked Christ)

This paragraph is now required history: "It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and 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 for help. The accident involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother's hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it -- but before I could touch it someone carried me away"

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Joel-Peter-Witkin/114728931876614

Artnet: http://www.artnet.com/artists/joel-peter-witkin/ 

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel-Peter_Witkin

Edelman Gallery: http://www.edelmangallery.com/witkin.htm 

All Art: http://www.all-art.org/20ct_photo/Witkin1.htm

A critique by Stefan Beyst: http://d-sites.net/english/witkin.htm

I posted the link to Stefan Beyst page, not because I agree with his appreciation, but because I so disagree with it. Critics often use words of authority to place themselves as omniscient judges, and their carefully chosen words seem to hide the lack of substance of their arguments. In order to approve of Beyst's critique, one would have to agree that art is what Beyst tells us that art has to be. I'll rather enjoy the art that I love, than sheeply follow a critic who will tell me that some of my favorite artists are not artists at all. Not especially when what the critic presents as art seems so uninteresting and empty of any meaning.

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