Section I: Beginnings
Joel-Peter Witkin was born on September 13, 1939 along with his twin brother, Jerome, in Brooklyn, New York. Artistry seems to run through the veins of these brothers, as Joel-Peter is a highly acclaimed photographer and his twin Jerome is a well-known painter. Witkin's father was Jewish and his mother was Roman-Catholic. Their religious differences caused a huge strain on the marriage. Witkin's parents filed for divorce while the twins were still young. Witkin and his brother continued living with their mother and attended Catholic schooling. Joel-Peter served in the army from 1961-1964 and then continued his education in college. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts at Cooper Union. He then received a fellowship in poetry at Columbia University
Joel-Peter Witkin often tells an autobiographical story that explains "the bloody birth of his artistic destiny." At the age of six, he witnessed a traumatic event that changed his life forever.
As he walked with his mother and brother from their home in Brooklyn toward the street, he heard a loud noise. A fatal three-car accident took place right in front of his eyes. He somehow lost grip of his mother's hand and stopped at the curb. Something rolled from one of the cars toward where he was standing. When he looked down at the street, he realized it was a little girl's head. He bent down to touch it and to ask the little girl a question, but someone picked him up and carried him away before he got a chance. In other versions he has told of the story, he picked the head up off the ground and held it to his eye like a camera (Woodward).
Witkin's active interest in photography began at the young age of sixteen. Even though he was merely...