Friday, September 12, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Joel-Peter Witkin....the horror of it all!

Wikipedia's page on Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939, Brooklyn, NYC), an American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, begins with this brief description:
His work often deals with such themes as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people. Witkin's complex tableaux often recall religious episodes or classical paintings.
I'm not going to post any of his works here, apart from the two below - the only ones I found at all interesting and non-stomach-churning. For any passing reader with a strong stomach who'd be interested in seeing examples, do go HERE, HERE, or HERE (scroll down for the illustrations at third link).

 Night in a Small Town (2007)

Cupid and Centaur (1992)

There's a very good article by Cintra Wilson at Salon from 2000:

Joel-Peter Witkin
Is his darkly imaginative photography an intellectually camouflaged freak show or high art?

I'm going to take the liberty of borrowing a paragraph or two from it here.

My main reason for featuring this photographer/artist is because of his birth date. Sun and numerous other planets all in Virgo, seemed to me to be at odds with his choice of subject material.

Some pointers in random paragraphs from Cintra Wilson's piece:

His father was a Jewish glazier, his mother a Roman Catholic who worked in a DDT plant. His parents were unable to transcend their religious differences and the two divorced when Witkin was young, the boy remaining with his mother.

In his 1998 book “The Bone House,” Witkin claims that his unique visual sensibilities began to churn when, as a small child, he witnessed a terrible car accident in front of his home, in which a little girl was decapitated. He recalls her head rolling to his feet, her dead eyes staring upward. Witkin also cites urban crime photographer Weegee as an early influence.
(Note my Learning Curve OTE post on Weegee is HERE)

He has been the reigning king of deviant imagery — indeed, the thinking Goth’s favorite artist — since he came to public acclaim in the 1980s with his delicately posed corpses and bravely naked mutants, floridly arranged in beaten-silvertone, antique nightmare-scapes.
Over the years he’d developed an involved and zealous process for making his prints, which resulted in the silvery, found-antique quality his work became known for. Witkin scratches the negatives, then prints them through tissue paper to fuzz the texture of the image, giving the prints a specifically blurry, “timeless” quality. He then mounts the image on aluminum and applies pigments by hand. Finally, he covers the photographs with hot beeswax and reheats them, then cools and polishes. With this procedure, Witkin, a rabid perfectionist, produces an average of 10 of his coldly luxurious finished prints in a year.

Witkin’s subject matter is, in fact, atrocity itself, or anyone who looks like a victim of it, by accident or unfortunate birth. In 1985, he ran this advertisement to solicit models, asking the following people to contact him:
"Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, pre-op transsexuals, bearded women, people with tails, horns, wings, reversed hands or feet, anyone born without arms, legs, eyes, breast, genitals, ears, nose, lips. All people with unusually large genitals. All manner of extreme visual perversion. Hermaphrodites and teratoids (alive and dead). Anyone bearing the wounds of Christ."
Witkin succeeded in reaching so many amputees, pre-operative transsexuals and other pinnacles of unseen society as modeling fodder that in 1989 he added to his original request: “women whose faces are covered with hair or large skin lesions willing to pose in evening gowns. People who live as comic-book heroes, boot, corset and bondage fetishists. Anyone claiming to be God. God.”

God is a big theme for Witkin. Like many good perverts, Witkin seems to suffer from what I like to call “Catholic burn.” As a practicing Roman Catholic, he appears to be obsessed with the fetishizing of everything nasty on the fringes of Jesus’ world, of all the “other” stuff ordinarily shunned by suburban philistines and the religiously repressed: freaks, violated corpses, fists up the ass, bondage, etc.

But Witkin routinely insists it’s not for prurient reasons. Oh, no. His work is a product of his higher religious leanings: “The images tended to repel and shock. Yet, I believe they possessed tender and enlightened qualities which were strangely moving … the figures were always isolated because the Sacred is always beyond nature, beyond existence.”

.... often claims to see himself as “loving the unloved, the damaged, the outcasts,” and such unconditional acceptance characterizes his work in general: like St. Francis of Assisi, who drank the pus of lepers in order to overcome his repulsion of them, Witkin is not a rubbernecker, an exploiter or a pessimist, but one who says Yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible. Why would you want to say Yes to death, dismemberment, or any of the other staples in Witkin’s banquet of the bizarre? It’s sort of like an extreme form of multiculturalism, a respect for that which is drastically foreign to you, even terrifying.

The work is beautiful enough to be “real art,” but it is still an intellectually camouflaged, carny peep show of the most debased and obvious water. You can put as many flowery wreaths and as much gorgeous photo technique as you want around a dead baby, and it will be art, yes, but it is still a dead baby. It is still a sideshow for the morbidly curious, regardless of how much Witkin may drone on about the deeply religious quality of his work.

For a slightly different take on Witkin and his work there's a piece by photographer Richard Emblin at Black Star Rising HERE.
Emblin describes Witkin;

...As a staunch “traditionalist” in his modus operandi, he has embraced Catholicism and a Jewish work ethic. While critics have employed many adjectives to describe his visual undertakings from “dark” to “morbid,” he is anything but; a man whose smile spans the Williamsburg bridge, can light up a conversation in seconds and whose eyes flicker like fully-charged strobes, whenever a joke is made.

I can find no time of birth, so chart is set for 12 noon on 15 September 1939, Brooklyn, NYC.

Sun, Mercury Venus, Neptune and, quite probably, Moon all in Virgo! He is described in Cintra Wilson's article as "a rabid perfectionist" (it was highlighted by me in the excerpt above).
That certainly describes a Virgo-type. Some of those Virgo planets are linked together in a Grand Trine in Earth signs (a kind of harmonious circuit), which links most of the Virgo planets to Mars and Uranus in the other Earth signs, Capricorn and Taurus respectively. As an everyday personality Witkin could well be the "feet- on-the-ground" guy I'd expect from an Earth Grand Trine, but somehow, once his muse kicks in, his feet are led to the darkness below ground. Venus, Neptune and Uranus are bound up in this Grand Trine, so his artistic impulses are led to the unusual, unexpected and highly creative. Not directly by Pluto, as might be expected though; Pluto is at 2 Leo, in trine to Jupiter in Aries. Perhaps Jupiter's reputation for excess, linked to Pluto's darkness and deathly implications, somehow play into Witkin's need for a kind of peculiar perfection.

All his natal planets are in Earth or Fire signs, no Water or Air, unless either element had been added via unknown sign on the ascendant angle. I'd hazard a guess at the obvious one: Scorpio, to add a bit of dark Watery passion into the mix.

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mike said...

I was leery of clicking on the links you provided, but was relieved at the result. I didn't find his subject matter and compositions that gruesome or horrific...OK, maybe a couple. Some I liked. Several had an old-world look reminiscent of martyrdom and the Christian theme. I might have felt more comfortable viewing some of them had they been paintings rather than photographs, taking me a level beyond real.

I'm reminded of a movie I saw decades ago, "Freaks", by Tod Browning. An excellent film worth viewing...the cast is alive, whew.

His Pluto could be part of the mutated darkness of his expression, depending on how one interprets the lunar Nodes. Pluto (taboo) is square the Nodes and Saturn (moribund) on the S Node, and as you indicate trine Jupiter (expansive). Also, Mars is loosely opposed Pluto, but out of sign. The two rulers of Scorpio in opposition, both square the Nodes and T-square Saturn on the S Node. Probably a good thing Witkin turned to photography as a method of expression and release...LOL.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I, too, would have felt less uncomfortable with Witkin's type of subject matter as paintings rather than photographs.

Oddly, I feel uncomfortable with most of his photographs, if I met a person with some unusual physical feature, in real life, I don't think I'd feel uncomfortable. His photos make me feel kind of intrusive on privacy, voyeuristic...a wee bit nasty.

Thanks for the additional astrological pointers.

I think we have Witkin's Virgo planet cluster to thank for the sharp reining in of, yet still allowing for communication of, any innate dubious tendencies that are somewhat removed from the norm.

Twilight said...

mike ~ In other's RAINING!
Heavily! And temp. only 57*-ish at present. Good while it lasts - but it won't. We'll be back in the 90s before the month ends.

mike (again) said...

I was going to ask you how it felt to be cold. My sisters in Kansas say they are in heavier attire, appropriate for winter. No such joy here, except for the pre-frontal rain, which has just begun, and we are supposed to have an accumulation over the next several days. The cool front will make it down this far, but fizzle-out upon entry...supposed to happen with a bang about 4 AM Saturday morning. We will be cooler Saturday and Sunday, but only due to clouds and rain...good enough.

We had our first summer rain here in town (areas near have had a lot of rain over the summer - a bumper cotton crop this year) a week and a half ago, which allowed the mosquitoes to breed with the resultant vicious assaults on those with warm blood.

I'm hoping it won't be overly cold this year, specially for you northerners. The early snowfall received in some states from this current front portends otherwise. Weather has changed considerably even since you arrived in the states, Twilight...things are definitely shifting. there cause and effect here...did Twilight start global warming? Conspiracy theory here we come...LOL.

mike (again) said...

I need to get a message to your local Okies suggesting they tie you to a very heavy rock and throw you into the nearest lake to test your innocence (if you perish) or guilt (if you survive).

LB said...

Twilight ~ Interesting and intense. Since I'm pretty sure it's not my cuppa tea, I took your word for it and decided not to click on the links.

I *think* in evolutionary astrology, squares to the Nodes are said to indicate "skipped steps".

If that's the case, *Pluto* (in Leo, artistic expression) would be the skipped step. The point opposite Pluto, which in this case would be Aquarius, is said to represent the place where Pluto finds its healthiest outlet, which maybe explains his need to jolt us all out of our comfort zones by exploring the humanity in what most of us find uncomfortable.

With Mars in Capricorn opposite Pluto, it makes sense he'd channel his energies in a way that furthered his career goals. The grand trine you mentioned would help a lot, and to Uranus in Taurus too!

mike mentioned the Nodes as well, and I agree. North Node in Scorpio at such an early degree may mean the energy is relatively new to him but also very cathartic. He's meant to transform (Scorpio NN) through art (Taurus SN).

I also notice the ruler of his SN, Venus, is in Virgo and conjunct his Neptune-Sun. It's *possible* his art is his way of making spiritual peace by providing a counterbalance to some former over idealized, self-limiting idea of beauty and perfection.

We heal by embracing what we fear, *hopefully* without becoming it. For Witkin it may have been his previous discomfort with death, suffering, imperfection, and a lack of control.

Just an amateur's thought.:) I think the Nodes and nodal aspects can play a big role.

Twilight said...

mike ~ LOL! Okies would do that anyway (tie me and sling me) if they knew my opinion of their politics, their governor, their senators.

But yes, I can see a subtle change in climate over the 10 years I've been in OK.

Back in the UK, after I retired and we went to live on the north-east coast, not too far from where I was born and went to school, I found temperatures there to have modified a lot over my lifetime. During my schooldays there it was always bitterly cold in winter, icy winds throughout much of spring and autumn, and even in summer it didn't ever get much more than fairly warm and pleasant for more than the odd day. On returning, right at the end of the 1990s I found the climate to be much milder there, overall, with considerably more warmth in summer, and hardly any of the bitter NE winds I remembered from my youth.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Those are good points - thank you!
For an amateur those are very professionally rendered thoughts too!

Re your last point - His childhood experience of witnessing results of an accident involving decapitation must have made a very deep impression, and as you say he found a way to deal with it, or heal it through his photographic art style.

LB said...

Thanks Twilight, although in terms of the "skipped step", I'm pretty sure I oversimplified it.:)

I was thinking the same as you, how witnessing something so horrible must've been really tough to deal with as a child. At least the astrology of how he transformed his experience makes sense.

mike (again) said...

LB - Yes, good synopsis you provide. I've read about the evolutionary astrology, "skipped step" previously, but I'm not compelled to have that view. The lunar nodes tend to be speculative. A majority of the astrologers have the same cookie-cutter explanation, the others assign a wide array of possibilities. Some non-evolutionary astrologers deem a transiting or natal planet-square-nodes configuration as a crossroad or choice to be made.

Here's a quote from Steve (administrator), June 23, 2010:
"Any planet squaring the nodes is a skipped step. The gist of it is, the person has been flip-flopping back and forth between the south node and the north node in the areas of life symbolized by the planet squaring the nodes, its house and sign, and aspects it makes to other planets.

Its not so much that the planets had significant impact on past life nodal development as there are life lessons that have not been completed that must be worked on in the present life for evolution to proceed."

Can't this be said of ANY placement and aspect, or natal chart?

In Witkin's chart, Pluto is moving toward the N Node (maybe more appropriately, the N Node is moving faster toward his Pluto). This indicates to me that Witkin will take the appropriate step(s) to defuse the Pluto energy. I would have the opposite viewpoint had the Nodes been reversed and the S Node was moving toward Pluto.

With the N Node moving toward Pluto, Mars is moving toward the Saturn-S Node. Mars and Saturn will be the difficult planets in this configuration.

I'm curious to know why you are attracted to the evolutionary astrology interpretation. Thanks, LB!

LB said...

mike ~ All I can say is, I'm not an astrologer! In attempting to better understand Witkin's art (and why he might've been drawn to certain subjects), I used the skipped step idea in a more generalized way, only because it *seemed* to fit.

I rely heavily on intuition when looking at charts - some pieces of the puzzle speak to me more than others.:) In another person's chart, it might be something else. Usually, it's a lot of things.

Maybe it's a bit off topic, but since I believe in free will, I don't think anyone can look at someone's chart and claim to understand everything there is to know. We're all part of an unfolding divine mystery - to some extent, we remain mysterious even to ourselves.:)

mike (again) said...

Thanks, LB! You're definitely an astrologer. I asked, because I'm not a big fan of evolutionary astrology, as I feel it's all part of the same experience we all share, whether through this life or many.

I do believe in free will, but I may be drifting away from the notion as I age or depending on my whim...LOL. My mother thought that we were simply part of a "movie" and are projections into this dimension, here to play our designated role. I used to think that was bizarre, but maybe not. There are so many peculiarities about our lives that our wildest speculations may seem tame. And as I mentioned previously, I've had experiences that were forecast before the event...and I've had experiences that can't be understood using our mundane senses.

LB said...

mike ~ Life is bizarre, that's for sure! Sometimes it's those precious, other-worldly experiences that keep me going.

Probably the main reason I'm so interested in the nodes as well as evolutionary (or karmic) astrology is that I'd like to figure out what I'm doing wrong so I don't need to keep coming back, dressed in different costumes but repeating the same old mistakes.:(