Joel-Peter Witkin
[Photographer, b. 1939, Brooklyn, New York, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.]

 My first conscious recollection was when I was 6 years old. It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking through the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries for help. The accident had involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother’s hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to ask it—but before I could touch it—someone carried me away. 
 I have consecrated my life to changing matter into spirit with the hope of one day seeing it all. Seeing in its total form, while wearing the mask, from the distance of death. And there, in the eternal destiny, to seek the face I had before the world was made. 
 I need [as models] physical marvels—a person, thing or act so extraordinary as to inspire wonder: someone with wings, horns, tails, fins, claws, reversed feet, head, hands. Anyone with additional arms, legs, eyes, breasts, genitals, ears, nose, lips, head. Anyone without a face. Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, Satyrs. A woman with one breast (center); a woman with breast so large as to require Daliesque supports; women whose faces are covered with hair or large skin lesions and willing to pose in evening gowns. Active and retired sideshow performers, contortionists (erotic), anyone with a parasitic twin, people who live as comic book heroes. Boot, corset, and bondage fetishists, a beautiful woman with functional appendages in place of arms, anorexics (preferably bald), the romantic and criminally insane (nude only). All manner of extreme visual perversions. A young blonde girl with two faces. Hermaphrodites and taratoids (alive and dead). Beings from other planets. Anyone bearing the wounds of Christ. Anyone claiming to be God. God. 
 I had met these people the night before at the S and M club, and had convinced them to be photographed. When all was ready, this one said “Mr. Witkin, I don’t want to show my thing. Is there any way we can make it be there without showing it?” I just shouted, “Get the fuck on the set”—so he acted submissive and kind of liked it. But the guy who was to put the blade into his cock started complaining: “I can’t reach this.” So I screamed, “You just have to.” I was kind of nervous. I’d been working all night to set everything up. 
 At the moment of photography I act instantaneously and instinctively. At the moment of printing I take time for esthetic decisions for which I didn’t have time with the camera, I re-design the image into something more powerful, more mysterious. 
 My grandmother had only one leg and in the morning I would wake up and smell her gangrenous leg. Where most kids would wake up and smell coffee, I would wake up and smell grandmother’s rotting leg. 
 Artists are the people among us who realize creation didn’t stop on the sixth day. 
 In order to know if I were truly alive, I’d make the invisible visible! Photography would be the means to bring God down to earth—to exist for me in the photographic images I would create. I believe that all my photographs are incarnations, representing the form and substance of what my mind sees and attempts to understand. 
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