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

 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. 
 Artists are the people among us who realize creation didn’t stop on the sixth day. 
 Sometimes I say to myself that the work is smarter than I am. 
 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 [print] myself because that, for me, is the decisive moment: you can change the meaning of a photograph by how you print it. 
 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. 
 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. 
 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. 
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