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  1. #1

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    This is sort of a preemptive thread here....see, in one of my classs we will be viewing a presentation on Witkin. Now, the prof. is all about "postmodernism" (which is word you pretty much only hear in colleges....) and "feminist critiques", etc. etc.

    Fine and dandy. But we have to have a class discussion on Witkin. And I KNOW....I just KNOW....that somebody will defend his work. Specifically his early work in Mexico.

    You know, the work where he literally robbed graves and exploited the bodies of poor Mexicans.

    Any defense of his early work (his later work, while it may be gross, icky, and at this point showing a complete lack of imagination on his part, apparently uses "volunteers" so the ethics become less of an issue) will most likely go something like this -

    "Well, Michelangelo and many other artists robbed graves. This is the same. Don't impose your values on him. Blah blah blah."

    Now, I have I think a decent counter arguement. Which I won't go into here, but suffice it to say it revolves around the fact that Witkin is essentially act like an imperialist and is disrespecting the Mexican culture by not respecting their ancient and deeply rooted views of death and dying (which I know not that much about, but any culture with two days devoted to celebrating the deceased and honoring them is probably not keen on some gringo coming down from New York and rummaging through their morgues for his own purposes....).

    This leads me to consider this question though -

    When is art immoral and unworthy of being called art? To me any of Witkin's work which exploits a corpse sans the decedant's permission purely so he can make "art" (a VERY loose term here) is immoral, criminal, and shouldn't be sold, bought, displayed, etc. Just like kiddie porn shouldn't be treated as "art" and thus legalized in that context.

    What are your thoughts?

    Oh, and if you are following my art school rant, this is discussion will occur in a class taught by the same teacher who told me to give up ever trying for my MFA at the school I attend.

    It should be fun....
    Official Photo.net Villain
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    [FONT=Comic Sans MS]DaVinci never wrote an artist's statement...[/FONT]

  2. #2

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    I believe any work involving exploitation is immoral. In Witkin's case not only was it immoral but also illegal and it should not be protected under the guise of "art." I am preparing to go this weekend to take photographs of the "day of the dead" celebrations and as you say, it is something that is taken very seriously in this country, families take these days and specially Nov 2 to take time and honor their dead relatives, they go and spend the day in the cemetery taking care of the tombs, cleaning them, repairing them etc.

    If, as you say, you get the argument that this is "art" and you should not impose your morality on them, simply ask them: How would you feel if your parents died in a car accident and Witkin went and moved their bodies and placed them in the middle of the road to make and "artistic" shot?.

    What he did here in Mexico is no different, he actually moved the bodies and placed them in positions so that he could take a better shot.

    In the end, shocking photography is not "art" per se, it is only that, shocking photography.

    Bottom line, and you can tell your class mates this comes from a Mexican, it is my estimation that if Witkin had been found doing this by the families of the deceased he would most likely would not have made it back to the US, and furthermore, proof of his cowardice is the fact that his pictures are not shown in Mexico, nor has anybody heard of him here. I am sure that if he came down here to make an exhibition and it was found out how he made his photographs, he would most likely have a riot in his hands.

  3. #3

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    In the strictest sense, i would say that anytime a photograph of someone is used in a way they did not agree with or is exploitive in some way is immoral, or the photographer misrepresents his reason for wanting to make the image. This makes me think about the images of Diane Arbus. did she tell the subjects that she regarded them as a collection of freaks and odditites or that the view would most likely think the same of them?

    I suppose if you agree to have your picture taken, you are agreeing to its use in any way that the artist sees fit. But what of the images that are taken of people who are unaware?

    Last year I took the family to Six Flags Over Texas and was armed with my usual Nikon and 35mm lens. At one point I saw a group of adults with matching hats and shirts, all males. It was a group of retarded (I know, mentally disabled) youths from probably a Bethpage or similar home. When I was younger, one of these homes was across the street from my parents, so I got to know the clients there and the caregivers and the every day challenges, ups and downs of the retarded.

    As I saw this group I knew they were having a wonderful time. There was a look of excitement and joy and freedom on their faces. the caregives also were having a great time. I sort of walked around following them looking for the right shot, something to display this joy, But I thought, maybe I am the only one who knows what is going on. Someone else would see the photo and say I was being exploitive. And even though I though my intentions with the image were good, if I were to post it on the web others might see the youths and laugh ridicule them. So I didn't take the picture.

  4. #4
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  5. #5
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    Art and morality are two seperate things and should never be discussed in the same sentence. It's kind of like the seperation of church and state in it's concept.

    Witkins work IMHO is totally uninteresting and devoid of any "art" as defined by my perception of what art is to me. Next sentence. I also find his work and working methods to be totally immoral.
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  6. #6
    Ole
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    I admit that I don't understand the question here.

    The artist may be immoral, and commit "immoral" acts in the pursuit of art. But the artwork itself may challenge our concept of morality, but not in itself be immoral.

    I don't know enough about this particular case to say anything about it, so I'll merely round off by mentioning Andres Serrano...
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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  7. #7

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    There are many ways, in many cultures and countries, to describe what Witkin does or did. No matter what words are used, whether it is respecting ancestors, letting the dead rest in peace, or any other words, there is a universal sense of what Jorge was saying. Whether Witkin calls it art or not is totally irrelevant. WARNING! I am going to get a little crude here. We have all over the years had a belly full of "sensitivity training", tolerance training, and moral relativism which is almost always used to excuse the fact that someone is an asshole, and demanding the rest of us to "respect and understand" him or her. Some people are just assholes. Period.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ole
    I admit that I don't understand the question here.

    The artist may be immoral, and commit "immoral" acts in the pursuit of art. But the artwork itself may challenge our concept of morality, but not in itself be immoral.

    I don't know enough about this particular case to say anything about it, so I'll merely round off by mentioning Andres Serrano...
    YOu know I thought the same about Andrès Serrano until Dick Sullivan clarifeid something for me. His now infamous "christ in piss" was part of a body of work having to do with santeria. As such the practicioners of santeria utilize many body fluids comingled with religious icons in their rituals. I now can see that that image was taken out of context and made a big hoopla about it by overzealous religious groups. As a catholic now that I am aware of the circumstances under which the picture was taken I am not offended by it.

    One could argue that there are circumstance where the "artist" as well as the produced piece is immoral, child pornography being one of those cases. IMO not only are the adult participants immoral but their product also carries and immoral message.

  9. #9
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    This discussion kind of brings to mind the work of Leni Riefenstahl, who was never allowed to live down the incredibly artistic work she did of the early Nazi Party Rallies and the German athletes in the Berlin Olympics.

    Who she worked for was an immoral group and her work was great art. Hard to reconcile.

    How about Migrant Mother. Are we exploiting when we travel around and take pictures of the less fortunate. We are making money off of their pain. We may rationalize that that we are trying to help them with this exposure but whose to say. Look at the people that photograph the homeless. Is this exploitation.

    How about news photograph. They make money off of other's misery and make the claim that they are just covering the news.

    Paparazzi - the lowest of the low. They claim that celebrities need this exposure, and the public eats it up. So who is being exploited. The public, the celebrity.

    Michael McBlane

  10. #10
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    One in every crowd ....

    I don't personally "see" the mission of art as the primary "propaganda "tool" for the enhancement of morailty.

    I will admit, that knowing the situation, Witkins work is disturbing to me ... but as it is with Mappelthorpe or Arbus .. it is a form of displaying "what IS" among the dark recesses of human experience.

    I think there must be a time when we find it necessary to investigate possible consequences associated with our concepts: If I, or a group us us - or "everyone" - finds a work offensive - then what? Do we censor it, or destroy it, or destroy both the work and the artist (all of which has been done before)?

    Much work that has fallen under the label "offensive" in times past is now viewed as remarkably "good" - cases in point - Goya's "Naked Maja"; Velasquez' Nudes; Anything by Grosz ... all meant not as ways to enhance morality, but as displays of what *IS*. Possibly these works serve to either shake us into a heathier morality structure - or remind us where we are deficient in the one we have now.

    One can only wonder about morbid veneration of scenes depicting extreme cruelty - but that would really include Crucifixes - death on the cross was one of the most horrible and cruel ever devised - or St. Bartholomew pierced by hundreds of arrows ...

    So - art... when is it "good" or even "art"? I really do not know - I think one of the tests for its success is to determine the reaction of the human being experiencing the work. If we react ... with rapture, being offended, joy, wonder or curiosity - or we decide to investigate the recesses of our own "inner self", ... I would consider it "successful".

    My views, anyway ... possibly not too succinct - I am rather "fried out" after a - not "hard"-, but energy-consuming - day of ... photography.
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

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