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

 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... 
 Actually there are two decisive moments: the first when I record something with the camera, the second when I print. What I’m showing you here are not just mechanical records, but final objects, representing interactions between such records and myself. I draw on the negative, or scratch it, or take things out. 
 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 [print] myself because that, for me, is the decisive moment: you can change the meaning of a photograph by how you print it. 
 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. 
 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. 
 Sometimes I say to myself that the work is smarter than I am. 
 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. 
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