Joël-Peter Witkin

Born in 1939 in Brooklyn, New York (US)
Lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico (US)

Negre's Fetishist

Black and white photograph, gelatin-silver print
63,5 x 81 cm
Year of Purchase: 1991

Hybrid, misshapen, paranormal beings displaying their differences, dead things posing in their lugubrious finery, bits cut as offerings to the voyeur, the actors frequenting Witkin’s photographs present the beholder’s eye with the obscene and indecent spectacle of their curious beauty. Bedecked with jewels, fetishes and masks, as if for some macabre festival to the glory of sex, religion and death, they seem to enjoy the setting, the endlessness of the pose, and the complicity of the apparatus. With his characters, Witkin creates another world, decadent and violent, which makes no concessions as it refers to the image of unsatiated fantasies and deliberate tortures. His characters are flesh and blood beings, who are conspicuously religious because they are the expression of man’s finiteness and his heterogeneity. Just like them, the photograph displays its scratched, made-up skin, gnawed by time and excess.
Filled with explicit references to and appropriations from 17th century Dutch painters, Bosch, Goya, Géricault, Courbet, and Picasso…, Witkin’s pictures pay tribute to spiritual nourishment, to past masters of art and poets of the inexpressible (Baudelaire, Bataille, Artaud, Beckett…). Negre’s Fetishists, the Frac’s latest acquisition joining an already rich and vast selection of Witkin’s photographs, is inspired from a photograph of Charles Nègre, taken in 1850, of the meeting with a physical model with a troubling resemblance to the original, and from the discovery of a book about foot fetichism. As a homage to the sensuality and beauty radiating from the famous photograph, Witkin projects his own sexual desires in the supernatural deformations of feet that have become disguised ‘trophies’ of games of seduction. The artist here treats the photograph as the site of an exploration of the soul, an object of fascination and pleasure. His works are icons of the theatricality of existence.
Like Jan Saudek, Witkin is a photographer of the interior anatomy, for whom the studio is a laboratory where the alchemy of appearances is practiced. His provocative and disconcerting photographs are expressions of outrage and liturgies of the human condition.

Maïté Vissault