Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York City) is an American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work often deals with such themes as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people. Witkin’s complex tableaux often recall religious episodes or classical paintings.
Witkin was born to a Jewish father and Roman Catholic mother. His twin brother, Jerome Witkin and son Kersen Witkin, are also painters. Witkin’s parents divorced when he was young because they were unable to overcome their religious differences. He attended grammar school at Saint Cecelia’s in Brooklyn and went on to Grover Cleveland High School. Between 1961 and 1964 he was a war photographer documenting the Vietnam war. Going freelance in 1967, he became the official photographer for City Walls Inc. He attended Cooper Union in New York where he studied sculpture, attaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974. After Columbia University granted him a scholarship, he ended his studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he became Master of Fine Arts.