San Francisco

Joel-Peter Witkin

Fraenkel Gallery

Our trust in the camera as witness to reality (as opposed to fabricator of it) is always an issue in Joel-Peter Witkin’s work. By showing us morbid or monstrous images, the veracity of which we would rather not believe, he exposes our faith in the camera.

For underlying that faith is the hope that truth can be objectified—recorded by the camera as it happens—relieving us of responsibility for deciding among ourselves what to regard as real. Witkin delights in frustrating people’s trust in the camera with pictures such as Woman Once a Bird, Los Angeles, 1990, in which a naked woman, her head shaved and dotted with feathers, sits with her back to the camera. A deep channel of scar tissue marks each of her shoulder blades, as if she were an angel violently shorn of wings. The photograph appears unmanipulated, yet it leaves us no way to account for what we see.

Witkin continues to load his work

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