Moisson, Philadelphie, 1984 © Joel-Peter Witkin © Courtesy Baudoin Lebon
Prudence Paris 1996 © Joel-Peter Witkin © Courtesy Baudoin Lebon
Portrait of Nan 1984 © Joel-Peter Witkin, Cliché Michel Urtado BnF, département des Estampes et de la Photographie
Trilogie parisienne, la lectrice, 2011 © Joel-Peter Witkin © Courtesy baudoin lebon Cliché Malala Andrialavidrazana
La Femme qui fut un oiseau, Los Angeles, 1990 © Joel-Peter Witkin © Courtesy baudoin lebon
Enfer ou Ciel Cover, Editions la Martinière by Joel-Peter Witkin
Complimentary to the exhibition of Joel-Peter Witkin: Heaven or Hell, presented at the BnF (The National Library), from March 27th to July 1st, 2012, the catalog is an indispensible tool to understand the exhibition and the work of the photographer. In the introductory text, Anne Biroleau exposes the principle of the exhibition. Far from being a retrospective, it aims to be a dialogue, a confrontation between his works, his photographs and a selection of prints carefully chosen from the precious collection of the print and photography department at the BnF.
The exhibition is also an attempt to open the stage to the “underground artist’s” work, that it would be arbitrary to place “under the umbrella of Baudelaire and his Flowers of Evil nor to open it to Oscar Wilde, Barbey d’Aurevilly or Kierkegaard.” Additionally, the show aims to analyze the confrontations between painting and what we call photography. In this rhetoric of differences it is important to understand how the photographs are created. We understand that the photographic style of Joel-Peter Witkin is far from “the decisive moment” because, as he says, “Some photographers are able to capture the moments of life and do it admirably. Praises should be given to them. I think of Cartier-Bresson and of Walker Evans. Some others, like me, are incapable of that. They have to create the photograph that they want to shoot. It’s up to the artist to create a meaningful place.”
The act of photography is an advanced step in his creative process, it’s not its conclusion. A photograph by Witkin first exists as a sketch, a study. The shooting lasts less than half a day. The photographer limits himself to only one film and we will never really know the result of this stage that serves as an advanced study… After this careful analysis of Witkin’s work, the catalog also presents a text by Severine Lepape, titled "Mystic Bodies , Multiplied Erotic Bodies", that analyzes the presence(s) of the body and its symbols starting in 1450, when the naked body in art changed status. Shortly before the text by Jerome Cottin, "The Art of a Postmodern Catholic", shows why Witkin uses artistic language to convey words that surpasses both the language and the codes of representation.
At last, as a prologue to the presentation of the different works, Joel Peter-Witkin writes, “My work finds its momentum by expressing the inner worlds where my emotion takes shape. Almost all contemporary photography looks like dried out and agonizing art. A still life of dead hearts and dead souls. I marvel at life and time. I need to express originality and artistic eccentricity that matches the majesty and the despair of human life…The blood of cave paintings and of the martyrs of art flows in my veins. When I die, we will deposit my prayers –my life and my photographs- on the altar of God. Then I will be judged by the Great Artist of the Creation.”
Enfer ou Ciel / Heaven or Hell
Catalog of the exhibition under the direction of Anne Biroleau
Text by Jérôme Cottin and Séverine Lepape
Bilingual, French / English
Co-edition BnF / Éditions de la Martinière
Hardcover 240 pages format 220x300mm, 140 illustrations.