Performing Amputation: The Photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Ann E. Millett-Gallant, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:

Abstract: The contemporary photography of Joel-Peter Witkin takes center stage in Performing Amputation. Many of his photographs feature amputee models in excessive and theatrical displays. The compositions recall, parody, and strategically corrupt traditions of bodily representation found in classical and neoclassical sculpture, ornamental motifs, the art historical still life, medical exhibits and photographs, and the early modern freak show. With the amputee body and amputating techniques, Witkin dismembers and sutures together multiple visual traditions. Witkin takes on the history of art and photography and effectively performs amputation on their visual conventions as he performs literal surgery on his images. His personal touch on the photographic plate and print perverts the assumed neutrality of the photographic gaze. The camera has been used as an instrument of medicine and of the gaze historically, a history in which Witkin‘s images intervene. I argue that Witkin‘s controversial and excessive photographs disrupt medical models for disability by presenting disabled and disfigured bodies as objects of art, design, and aesthetic magnificence, particularly because of their curious and spectacular, abnormal bodies. His camera both references and enacts images of objectification by displaying the body as an object. However, Witkin‘s amputee and other disfigured subjects elect and even request to be photographed; they therefore collaborate with Witkin in their production as photographic spectacles. As stages on which these models perform, the photographs may serve as venues for progressive self-exhibition and unashamed parading of the so-called abnormal body.

Additional Information

Text and Performance Quarterly
Language: English
Date: 2008
Photography, Performance, Amputation, Theatre, Art

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