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The Twisted,Transgressive & Beautiful Photography Of Joel-Peter Witkin

Joel-Peter Witkin is a prolific and controversial photographer who has been freaking people out for more than 20 years with his grotesquely beautiful images. Witkin’s subjects range from dwarfs to transsexuals, from living and breathing to rotting corpses, and are, more often than not, naked. His style of photography is very turn of the century circus freak, but set against massive and elaborate back drops and with a multitude of props and mirror reflections that all have complex meanings and metaphors behind them. On the surface, Witkin’s work appears to have a shock factor that seems to be the main point – however, with his nudes and corpses, he conjures the political and societal ills and issues that plague the US in the Middle East and at home. One of his most fascinating prints is Ars Moriendi (above), where a reclining nude woman is surrounded by severed heads in an obvious state of decay. In an artist talk with Witkin from a 2008 exhibition, he explains that he borrowed the heads from a nearby hospital, whose medical student used them for research, and would often remove bits of skin, teeth, muscle etc. The heads were almost 10 years old, and Witkin recalls that the stench was unbearable, so he was only able to fire off a few shots. Apparently, Witkin witnessed a car accident decapitation as a child, and has since been enthralled with severed head imagery. You can certainly see this in his photos, where many of his subjects appear to be corpse heads, but rather than being posed in a way meant to terrify, they look more like tributes to the body they once belonged to, or as if they have a purpose in being severed. After the jump, take a look at some of Witkin’s freaky photos and take the time to hear his explanations for what he creates…


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Face of A Woman, 2004

Face of A Woman, 2004

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  1. Edward Lopez

    November 5, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Beautifully grotesque

  2. Zach Fratoni

    November 5, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Zak Posteraro

  3. Lewu Seek

    November 5, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Ło kurwa

  4. Sarah Shafkind Rosenzweig

    November 5, 2015 at 5:36 am

    So wish I could unsee some of that

  5. Dean Gehrmann

    November 5, 2015 at 3:28 am

    Pungent Stench, dude. Been caught buttering.

  6. Robert Hanna

    November 5, 2015 at 2:34 am

    One of my biggest influences!

  7. Anonymous

    November 5, 2015 at 2:17 am

  8. Galimatías

    November 5, 2015 at 1:30 am

    come to chile again

  9. Thomas Proskow

    November 5, 2015 at 12:00 am

    A fan of his work for a long time!!

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