This blog entry is about an amazing experience that Mr. Witkin had when he was photographing Feast of Fools.
In Witkin by Germano Celant, Mr Witkin talks about an “incredible challenge” while he was getting ready to photograph his shot that was first made in his mind.
"A doctor took me downstairs and pulled out the drawers to show me some bodies. Now I have been to any number of hospitals and seen dead bodies—most dead bodies are boring because they were boring in life they will be boring in death too. They are not going to get more exciting in death. The doctor, who was a tiny Mexican man, opened the wrong drawer by mistake and inside there were parts of bodies, arms legs, ears—floating around parts of babies—everything you can imagine, in this swill of human soup and pus and degeneration. And I said to myself, that is why I’m here—I can’t even look at this, it’s like looking into hell! At the same time, I said to myself: Is this the way I have to do my work? Is this the way I’m going to feed my family? But at the same time I was very excited, knowing that I do have a capacity to find beauty in the most vile, ugly things. It was an incredible challenge to see this event” –Joel Peter Witkin
Now, for him to actually go through with that is amazing, even when he had to surround himself with the smell of rotting babies and pus. I mean, could you bring yourself to accomplish something like that? As a woman, as a mother? Just think, it could have been your rotting child in there.
The question is:
Would I be able to accomplish something like that? As an artist I would, as a woman, I would, as a mother though? Sure. Why not? I mean, there would be nothing left but an empty body without a soul. No big deal. You may even think I am kind of gross, but so be it.
In my 26 years, I have been to numerous funerals. In fact, I was at a two year olds funeral once. It was pretty sad actually. I saw those cadavers that were once my loved ones with their good form, rosy pink cheeks, and their hands nicely laid together above their belly button, and I pictured them all rotting away together in a drawer. Would I be able to take the bits and pieces out of the drawer, set up the shot, and then photograph it?
Quite honestly, as an artist, I would put myself in ANY situation to create meaningful art. I would even photograph the MOST disgusting things if that is what I had to do. I am turned off by those pretty artists whose art does not have a lasting effect on its viewers.
For months now, I have wondered if I could ever stand in a room with body parts all mingled together in this “swill of human soup and pus and degeneration,” and yes, I would be able to. Sure the smell would get to me, but that would be part of the amazing experience. For me, it would be fascinating to experience what he experienced. I wish I could have accompanied him.
Many people already think he is a crazy individual for photographing cadavers in the first place, but for me, his work is meaningful because as a viewer so many questions can race through my mind. Why did he choose to photograph that subject? What is he trying to get at? He makes me think about life in general. He also makes me strive to think outside the box when it comes to art, and life.
I almost feel that he is trying to show us the other side of life. Even though the human is not with us anymore, he wants to show that they are still alive, or whose personality is still in the room with us.
I too believe that I have “a capacity to find beauty in the most vile, ugly things.”