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Past exhibition

Terminé le 16.05.21

Le grand atelier of Joel-Peter Witkin

Famous for his provocative and controversial photographs emphasising the morbid, the erotic and the religious, Joel-Peter Witkin, holder of a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Albuquerque where he would also study photography, bears witness in his work to a thorough knowledge of classical painting and sculpture as much as photography and mythology.

Joel-Peter Witkin was born in 1939 in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish father of Russian origin and a practising Catholic mother of Italian origin. This hybrid blend had a great impact on his religious, spiritual and philosophical thinking.
As a child, he witnessed an automobile accident in which the decapitated head of a little girl rolled to a stop at his feet. That image marked him for life and would give him a decided taste for the macabre and powerful images.
He embarked on photography when he was a teenager, under the influence
of his brother, who was a repressed painter. He became an assistant to some photographers and left for Vietnam as a war reporter.
In 1970, MoMA in New York chose some of his first photographs for its permanent collection. He studied visual arts at Cooper Union, where he gained his Bachelor of Arts, and then enrolled at the University of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he received his Master of Fine Arts, and where he has been living and working since then.

“Joel-Peter Witkin prepares his photographs with meticulous care. A long creative process begins -between six months and a year- between the first preliminary sketches, the shooting which will faithfully reflect them and the final printing” the gallery owner and friend, Baudouin Lebon, explains.

As a photographer and plastic artist on account of the techniques he uses, he stands out through the originality of his subjects, the myths that he explores and recreates, but also through his many references and his borrowings from major works of art history, from ancient times to the modern era.

The exhibition “Le grand Atelier of Joel-Peter Witkin” presents a selection of a hundred or so photographs and some sketches. The selection was made by the Museum of Photography from within the body of work kept by the Baudouin Lebon Gallery.

Structured around his favourite subject areas exploring death, religion, myth and allegory, the exhibition “Le grand Atelier of Joel-Peter Witkin” is a demonstration of the full range of this photographer’s atypical technical mastery; uncontestably one of the most unusual artistic figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fascination and repulsion, compassion and voyeurism are among the possible reactions to Joel Peter Witkin’s photographs. They seem to be the pictures of “sideshow freaks” highlighting a world of suffering, mutilations and disembodiment, without dismissing a form of derision.

The mutilated, the transgendered, transexuals, dismembered corpses borrowed from morgues reinterpret mythological or biblical figures, magnified by Witkin’s craftmanship. The work of an artist who does not use digital technology to manipulate his images.

With the collaboration of the Baudouin Lebon Gallery

© Musée de la Photographie