Sunday, April 8, 2012

ethics in photography

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When dealing with human beings when does art cross the border between ethical and unethical? Is it how the human being is being depicted within the art? If so, Joel�Peter Witkin’s photography is teetering on the borderline between ethical and unethical. In ethics, the belief that right and wrong differs from one society to another and one person to another is known as relativism. This belief is perfect when talking about Witkin, and any art for that matter, because one person could look at his photographs and literally vomit while others are paying tens of thousands of dollars to hang an original photograph of Witkin’s in there foyer.

Witkin creates his backdrops for these photographs himself. It usually takes close to two weeks to finish a set which depicts his models in “ heretical updates of old �master paintings, Witkin transform the grotesque into a brazen, personal vision of the sublime.” One ananomist at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine called Witkin “another Jeffery Dahmer.” Accusing him of degrading a human being because he accessorized a cadaver with costume jewelry for one of his photographs.” If Witkin had gotten permission from the diseased before their death it does not seem unethical but in the case of his most infamous photograph Le Baiser (The Kiss) he waited a year to get a severed head which was sliced in half for the photograph with one half kissing the other. Some say it was given to him and others say he stole it from a grave. In 18 a born again Christian janitor working at the University of New Mexico Discovered prints of it along with real fetuses and reported it to the police. He Voluntarily destroyed the negatives and know has people donate their bodies to him.

The problem with his art is how he profits from people with abnormalities and how he seems to be humiliating these human beings other than bringing out the beauty he calms is so relative in his photography. In one photo he positioned a male goat, that is sexually aroused, with its front legs perched on a nude dwarf woman’s back. The nude woman looks as if she is trying to get away at no avail. This to me is humiliating for this woman and unethical.

A lot of his photos are not straight photography either. After the print is made he scratches the surface to create a grimy look, he also pours chemicals directly on the surface to give it texture and a very eary feeling. If he was trying to bring out the beauty in these people then why does he alter their appearance with scratches and different textures? What he really is doing is making them look more horrible. In one of his photographs he actually scratches the eyes and mouth out of a woman making her look like a person screaming from the depths of hell.

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His wife and her female lover are in charge of finding models for Witkin’s theatrical photographs. One of his models, a recluse in Los Angeles born with no skin, no eyelids, and no legs or arms asked Witkin to “please make me look like a human being.” After viewing this photograph it appears that Witkin went out of his way to emphasize this man deformities.

Witken obviously has his own psychological problems. One night while he and his wife slept, they were awoke by a strange light in the backyard. Witken got up out of bed and said good-bye to his wife telling her “ they’ve come for me.” “When he came back into the house, he was crushed they hadn’t beamed him up,” she says sweetly. “He said they had left without him.” As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, Witkin calmed to witness a bad car accident and has told the story of standing at the curb next to the crash and a little girls severed head rolling to his feet. In some versions he says he stared right into the little girls eyes, while in others he says he actually picked her head up. “For a long time I think Joel really believed the story,” says his brother Jerome Witkin, a painter who teaches at Syracuse University. “You wonder if reality isn’t enough for him”, says Jerome.

While Witkin’s photographs are very powerful images, what he describes as beauty screaming from this artwork appears to be more about attention, or perhaps sickness. Witkin completely exploits not only his voluntary living subjects, but what about the deceased posed nude, decapitated, armless, ect, he almost makes his own case for how truly unethical his “art work” is.

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