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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Joel-Peter Witkin

Other: Joel Peter Witkin 
Dates:  1939, 13 September -
Born:  US, NY, Brooklyn
Active:  US
Gender:  Male
American photographer with a sense of the grotesque. His exploration of the extreme sides of the human personality are bizarre and at times erotic.

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Witkin’s dark, shocking tableaux portray beauty in the grotesque and give form to photography’s power to confront taboos. Populated by deformed people, hermaphrodites, dwarfs, corpses, and body parts collected and combined to make psychologically charged, highly controversial images, Witkin’s images "reflect the insanity of life." Drawing from the history of art and his personal spirituality, Witkin conjures a darkly mythological imagery, compelling and provoking us with his exquisitely beautiful grotesqueries. His black and white prints, toned, bleached, and containing scratches and scars made to the negative, are coated with wax overlays on the print’s rich surface. Active as an exhibiting artist since the 1970s, Witkin lives in New Mexico. 
(Author: Garie Waltzer - Photographer and consultant) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

HomeContents > Further research

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Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Parry, Eugenia, 2007, Joel-Peter Witkin, (Phaidon Press) isbn-10: 0714847879 isbn-13: 978-0714847870 [Δ
Witkin, Joel-Peter, 1994, Gods of Earth and Heaven, (Santa Fe: Twelve-trees Press) [3rd edition] [Δ
Witkin, Joel-Peter, 2001-2002, Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence, (21st Editions) [Photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin, poems by William Blake] [Δ
Witkin, Joel-Peter, 2004, Songs of Innocence and Experience, (21st Editions) [Photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin, poems by William Blake] [Δ
Witkin, Joel-Peter, 2008, Joel-Peter Witkin, (Thames & Hudson) isbn-10: 050041095X isbn-13: 978-0500410950 [Δ
Witkin, Joel-Peter (ed.), 1994, Harms Way: Lust & Madness, Murder & Mayhem, (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers) [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan -
Bill Jay
Joel-Peter Witkin 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.
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Visual indexes

ThumbnailJoel-Peter Witkin: Abundance, Prague
ThumbnailJoel-Peter Witkin: Songs of Innocence and Experience
ThumbnailThéodore Géricault - Joel-Peter Witkin
All photographs by this photographer 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Coke, Van Deren with Diana C. Du Pont 1986 Photography: A Facet of Modernism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, The San Francisco Museum of Art) p.188 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• Hoy, Anne H. 1987 Fabrications: Staged, Altered and Appropriated Photographs (New York: Abbeville) p.200 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Koetzle, Hans-Michael 2002 Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures - Volume 2 (Koln: Taschen) [This book discusses one photograph "Un Santo Oscuro (1987)" by Joel-Peter Witkin in considerable detail. An excellent source for a detailed analysis.] 
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.237, Plate 134 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Joel-Peter Witkin this is a useful starting point.] 


The wit and wisdom.

"I have consecrated my life to changing matter into spirit with the hope of someday seeing it all."
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