In his 1998 book "The Bone House," Witkin claims that his unique visual sensibilities began to churn when, as a small child, he witnessed a terrible car accident in front of his home, in which a little girl was decapitated. He recalls her head rolling to his feet, her dead eyes staring upward. Witkin also cites urban crime photographer Weegee as an early influence.
The most famous photographer of death is Joel-Peter Witkin, who specialised in photographing corpses in Mexican morgues. Witkin's photographs include The Kiss (1982), a severed, bisected head whose two halves appear to kiss each other in an echo of the sculpture Le Baiser. Witkin treated the bodies he photographed as still-life objects, often surrounding them with the tropes of still-life painting such as bowls of fruit though also producing more elaborate, fetishised, and carnivalesque tableaux. His use of dead bodies as props to be manipulated extended to a successful request for the decapitation of a male cadaver for his photograph Man Without A Head (1993).
When Joel-Peter Witkin takes a photograph of a headless corpse (its neck terminating in a meaty stump, its penis shriveling into its fat stomach, its feet absurdly sporting black socks), does it repel you? Is death repulsive?
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