JOEL-PETER WITKIN: VANITAS was published last year in the Czech Republic. Conceived as a way to allow Witkin to comment on the creative nidus of his own creations this monograph presents a collection of Witkin's latest photographs, his retablos, created over the last three years. The monograph, in English and in Czech, with a text by the art historian Otto M. Urban summarizes the development of Witkin's life and work.
Witkin is a Brooklyn born photographers who stylized black and white portraits focus on still life and portraiture and stirs up controversy whenever they are shown. Witkin's black-and-white portraits and still-lifes of hermaphrodites, body parts, severed heads, and mutilations and religious themes are the subjects and objects Witkin presents to us. For Witkin, the goal is simple: "I wanted my photographs to be as powerful as the last thing a person sees or remembers before death." Morbid to some maybe, but he photographs his subjects beautifully creating an atmosphere of decadence. His influences come from his appreciation of Goya, Odilon Redon Hieronymus Bosch, and Giotto. This book is a survey of his work from the 1970s to present day and presents a collection of Witkin's latest photographs, his retablos, created over the last three years.
The American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, born 1939 in Brooklyn and now living in Albuquerque, NM, has been one of the most outstanding representatives in the world of photography since the end of the 1970s. His stylized black and white images are included in all major photography collections around the world. Witkin focuses mainly on still life and portraiture. His work presents a unique view of the contemporary world and he often works populated with bizarre creatures and themes have been described as `shock fodder' to the religious right due to references to religious themes (the crucifixion, saints, etc.) as well as to classical painting (Francisco Goya, Odilon Redon, Joan Miró, Hieronymus Bosch, etc. Also thanks to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin the concept of decadence and the decadent has recently emerged more and more in relation to contemporary art. The book represents a cross section of the artist's work since the 1970s to the present. In addition to photographs, lesser known drawings and paintings are also included in the book.
In Witkin's words, placed throughout the book, `My art is the way I perceive and define life. It s sacred work, since what I make are my prayers. I am not looking for sensations, even though I work with very striking elements. I merely want to express myself. Even though the elements may vary, the results should still aim to celebrate life and the positive side of it. They should educate us and lead us to greater love and mercy I only take photographs of what I believe in: if I show death, that is because even in that condition I recognize this power of reality that no imagined work can reproduce. I believe that Christ was a man who transcended this bodily form and became God: or to put it in terms of my personal belief - God placed on the man called Jesus the mask of Christ!'
This volume, perhaps more than any of his other monographs, reveals the artist behind the strange creations that have flowed from his creative mind throughout his career. The photographs, preparatory drawings, and incidental paintings (like story boards) provide insight into his genius. Grady Harp, May 13