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Oral history interview with Joel-Peter Witkin, 1999 October 18 and 2001 August 14

Witkin, Joel-Peter, 1939-



Collection Information

Size: 3 sound cassettes (165 min.), analog.

Format: Originally recorded on 3 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 6 digital wav files. Duration is 2 hr., 44 min.

Summary: An interview of Joel Peter Witkin conducted 1999 October 18 and 2001 August 14, by Paul Karlstrom, for the Archives of American Art, in Witkin's home, in Albuquerque, N.M.
Witkin discusses his childhood in Brooklyn; his Italian and Russian Jewish heritage; his parent's religious differences and their interest in art and music; his father's desertion when he and his twin brother were three; his early use of a Kodak camera in hopes to "see God," and finding an image and accepting it as an epiphany; a 1966 trip to Europe, especially time spent in Paris; his attraction to risk taking and pushing limits which he attributes to his father's gambling and his belief that such risks are necessary to discover life and self; photographing sideshow freaks, in which he discovered a sense of family; seeking the supernatural in photography; and spiritual redemption through his chosen medium.

Biographical/Historical Note

Joel-Peter Witkin (1939- ) is a photographer from Albuquerque, N.M.


This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators. Funding for the transcription of this interview is provided by the Pasadena Art Alliance. Funding source: Pasadena Art Alliance

Language Note

English .


Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

How to Use This Collection

Transcript available at Archives of American Art offices with an appointment and through interlibrary loan.

Authorization to quote or reproduce for the purposes of publication requires written permission from Joel-Peter Witkin. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Joel-Peter Witkin, 1999 October 18 and 2001 August 14. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.