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

 We’re here, we’re living, because we’re not completely clear, we have to become clear. The darkness within us sometimes is so dark that for me it becomes very fascinating. What I really want is this really humble, individual connection, not with a religious institution, but with the living Christ. Whatever it takes in a positive way to get there, I’ll get there. The best means, it seems, of getting there is the aesthetic means of photography. 
 When I’m working with a severed head, I’m engaged in a very direct spiritual dialogue. This person really had a life. His body is in a coffin somewhere, and part of his brain was taken out for medical research. My job, given the opportunity, is to put flowers into the remainder of his brain, as if it were the well of my existence. I’m trying to make a totally humbling image. It’s a very crazy and profound experience. 
 I never photograph anything I don’t believe in. If I love working with death, it's because even in death I find this power of reality, that no sculptor or painter could recreate, not even a Michelangelo or a Da Vinci. The Pieta or the Virgin of the Rocks are but inventions of the mind, however wonderful—while in the real human flesh, whether alive or dead, there is a power that is god-given. This is what keeps me in photography. 
 I work alone during printing and begin by communicating with my equipment and chemistry, thanking them in advance. I place a negative in the enlarger and the darkroom becomes a kind of holy house... 
 I think that what makes a photograph so powerful is the fact that, as opposed to other forms, like video or motion pictures, it is about stillness. I think the reason a person becomes a photographer is because they want to take it all and compress it into one particular stillness. When you really want to say something to someone, you grab them, you hold them, you embrace them. That's what happens in this still form. 
 Sometimes I say to myself that the work is smarter than I am. 
 I [print] myself because that, for me, is the decisive moment: you can change the meaning of a photograph by how you print it. 
 Due to present censorship factors, the publisher and I have not included several important photographs in this presentation of my work. (Label on the monograph “Forty Photographs”) 
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