Joel-Peter Witkin (American, b.1939) is a photographer whose work deals with outsider subjects not widely covered by other photographers. His photography career began without any official study; he worked as a war photographer during the Vietnam War between 1961 and 1964. After Vietnam, Witkin continued his career as a freelance photographer, becoming the official photographer of City Walls Inc. Later study in sculpture at Columbia University earned him a BFA in 1974. He also earned a MFA from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 1986.

Witkin's work often centers on death and corpses as themes; he has frequently featured dismembered corpses in his work. These dark themes were inspired by a childhood incident in which Witkin encountered the dismembered head of a girl after a car accident. The look of early Daguerreotypes and the works of E.J. Bellocq (American, 1873–1949) also inspire his art. Witkin's work with corpses is created primarily in Mexico, where there are fewer restrictions in the handling of dead bodies. After taking his photographs, Witkin puts them through an extensive development process. He uses a hands-on chemical development method, often bleaching his prints, toning them, or scratching the negative.

Witkin's work extends beyond the theme of death though, with pieces using amateur models in a studio setting. His models are either beautiful or deformed, with his photographs presenting each model fully to explore themes ranging from the mundane to the erotic. His photographs have been widely exhibited, beginning with a 1959 group showing in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. Larger solo exhibitions didn't begin until the 1980s though, with a showing in New York in 1980 at Projects Studio One. After this, he continued to present his photography at the Galerie Baudoin in Madrid (1990), the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Museum (1988), the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (2004), and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

Some of Witkin's more famous works include his 1997 Female King, featuring a woman over six feet in height and 400 pounds in weight posed as an ancient tribal king. His 1997 Abundance is also well-known, with its subject being a legless and armless woman placed in an urn. The woman's head is covered with flowers, fruits, and pearls, presenting a picture of nurturing. The Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago serves as Witkin's gallery. He currently lives and works in Albuquerque, NM.

Timeline

1939
Born in Brooklyn, USA
1974
CAPS Grant in Photography NYC
1977
Ford Foundation Grant
1982
Natl Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship
1984
Natl Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship
1986
Natl Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship
1988
International Center of Photography Award
1991
The French Minister of Culture/awared by Jack Lang
1992
Natl Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship
1999–2000
Commander of the Legion of Honor, Paris
Lives and works in Albuquerque, USA

Exhibitions

2011
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France (solo)
2010
Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France (solo)
Castillo I Sehie, Italy (solo)
Minshar School of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel (solo)
2009
Itaú Cultural, São Paulo, Brazil (solo)
2008
Poetic Realism, Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, USA (solo)
Poetic Realism, Silverstein Photography, New York, USA (solo)
Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France (solo)
2007
Human Kind, Hasted Hunt Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
2006
Vintage Work, Hasted Hunt Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, France (solo)
Oeuvres recentes, Espace Jules Valles, Saint Martin d'Heres, Belgium (solo)
2005
Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, USA (solo)
Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, USA (solo)
Etherton Gallery, Tuscon, USA (solo)
2004
Baudoin Lebon Gallery, Paris, France (solo)
Heart Beats Dust, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
2002
The Nature of Still Life: From Fox Talbot to the Present Day, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy
The image of Jesus Christ in Photography, The Fotografie Forum: Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt, Germany
Stadische Museen, Jena, Germany
Infinito Gallery, Torino, Italy
Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France
Ricco/Maresca, New York, USA
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, USA
2001
Joel-Peter Witkin: Photographs from the Stephan Janssen Collection, University of Arizona Art Museum, Tempe, USA
Joel-Peter Witkin: In and Out of Life, Art Concern Gallery, Brussels, Belgium
Joel-Peter Witkin Fahey/Klein gallery, Los Angeles, USA
Art Since 1850, an introduction to the Collection, Akron Art Museum, Akron, USA
2000
Picture Photo Space Japan
1998
The Museum of Fine Arts & the Museum of N.M. Santa Fe, USA
1997
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, USA
1995
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, USA
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, USA
1993
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Magicians of Light, National Gallery of Canada
1992
University of Illinois Champaign, Urbana, USA
1989
On the Art of Fixing a Shadow, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
1987
Crosscurrents: Forty Years of Photographic Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, USA
1986
Sacred Images in Secular Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
Signs of the Times: Some Recuring Motifs in Twentieth Century Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
Several Exceptionally Good, Recently Acquired Pictures, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, USA
1985
The Sam Wagstaff Collection, International Center of Photography, New York, USA
Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
1983
Personal Choice, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, USA
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Pace Wildenstein MacGill Gallery, New York, USA
1982
Galerie Texbraun, Paris, France
Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France
1981
Group show at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
1980
Exhibited in Projects Studio One, New York, USA
1959
Group show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA

Public Collections

Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid Spain
George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA
Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO
The Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, IN
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
Princeton Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Literature

2010
The Master Series: Joel-Peter Witkin , Delpire Publishers, Paris
2009
The Journal of Joel-Peter Witkin:The Maxims of Men Disclose Their Hearts, 21 st Editions, South Dennis, MA
2007
Joel-Peter Witkin, Phaidon, London
2006
Bourgeoisie in DeNeil, A. Suite of 10 Etchings, Landfall Press, Santa Fe, NM
2003
Songs of Innocence , 21 st Editions, South Dennis, MA
2002
Songs of Experience , poems by William Blake, photographs by Joel-PeterWitkin, 21 st Editions, South Dennis, MA
2001
Joel-Peter Witkin, “55" Series, Phaidon, London
2000
Disciple & Maître , Marval, Paris, France
1999
The Bone House , Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, NM