Image: Woman with Severed Head
(Brooklyn, 1939 - )

Woman with Severed Head , 1982

Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 in. x 14 7/8 in. (37.47 cm x 37.78 cm)
Museum Acquisition Fund
1986.48
Joel-Peter Witkin encourages us to reflect upon morality and mortality in images that confront death. Each composition is minutely planned—Witkin often makes preparatory sketches, builds props and recruits his friends or strangers on the street as models. Religious and art historical references frequently appear in his work. Rather than ignore the macabre or erotic nature of much of his material, Witkin amplifies and conflates those qualities. For example, 'Woman with Severed Head' may call to mind the story of Saint John the Baptist, whose beheading at the request of Salome, a beautiful young woman, is a recurrent theme in Christian art. Witkin uses a large-format film camera and heavily works over his black and white negatives to give them the illusion of age and make direct reference to the history of photography.

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Online Collection paid for with a grant from
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