The staged shots of Arthur Tress, Jan Saudek and the beautifully toned portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe can at times be bizarre and highly disturbing. At the same time they draw the viewer in with their technical skills and juxtapositions of objects but they can also create a strong sense of repulsion and nausea.
To my knowledge nobody does this better than the American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin who has consistently created a body of work that deals with the outer limits of the sexual side of the human psyche. He selects people who have deformities and then creates tableau vivant that draw the viewer into a dark taboo laden world. Here there are no limits and all aspects of perversion, phobia, pain and suffering are explored. The images are then printed and scratched to create the look of a image that comes from the early days of photography - but it goes back further into a primitive almost mythological world of horror and the inquisition. Given the subject matter it is a testament to his artist vision that his work is so widely exhibited and collected by public institutions.
Joel-Peter Witkin is a visionary working in realms that turn the rest of us into scared voyeurs peeking tentatively at a dark world of nightmare. It is a freak show of the dead and maimed made to play out dramas and rituals of medieval intensity. These are photographs that rivet eyeballs to skull and demand that we question what it is to be human.