Joel Peter Blockhead

Photographer Joel Peter Witkin

Death by Party | Joel Peter Witkin’s Portrait Of Melvin Burkhart

As you get older it’s hard to avoid being jaded; and when your life long mandate is to explore the far extreme fringes of the world’s artistic consciousness, it becomes hard to discern what to talk about. I battled the idea of presenting anything regarding Joel Peter Witkin for a week. In fact yesterday was my turn to post and I missed my deadline as I absently stared out into the blizzard raging outside. The day came and went as I contemplated whether a photographer who used sideshow freaks, birth anomalies and dead bodies as subject matter would relate to this site. Obviously it’s a no brainer but I think debate in my head lends itself to a question about my own thick skin and knowledge of this subject matter. I was raised on a steady diet of his work, he was a grad student alumnus at University of New Mexico and his haunting presence was permissive in the photo department. So to me, posting about Joel Peter Witkin here is like posting about Elvis on a music site. My debate isn’t about what I know, it’s about what you, the reader knows. This may be “disturbing art 101” to me, but maybe you haven’t taken “disturbing art 101” yet.  Maybe that’s why we are here. I’m going to continue discussing my fascination with Mr. Witkin down the line, but I start this discussion with a portrait he did of Melvin Burkhart, the human block head. The above photo encapsulates everything this project strives to be. I had planned on writing a long dissertation on the presentation of sideshow outsider culture in terms of frightening dreamlike grandeur, but I don’t think I really need to say a word. Just take in this masterpiece. Meditate on the master photographers presentation of a master subject. There is no doubt in my mind that the moment will come when you will know what I would have said. In the presence of great art, no words are needed. -R.E. Brown

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