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 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 believe in building photographs. I don’t like the unpredictable—I have a clear idea of what I want long before I click the shutter. 
 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. 
 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. 
 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... 
 Sometimes I say to myself that the work is smarter than I am. 
 My art is the way I perceive and define life. It is sacred work, since what I make are my prayers. These works are the measure of my character, the transfiguration of love and desire, and, finally, the quality of my soul. 
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