When he was a small child in Brooklyn, he heard a loud crash and a ball-like object came rolling down the street toward him. When he reached for it, he saw it was a girl's severed head, and then someone yanked him away. Joel-Peter Witkin's now famous proclivity for morbidity blossomed a few years later with his photos of Coney Island freak shows, and he's been art photography's incorrigible goth rocker ever since. Now in his seventies, he seems like the academic he was at the University of New Mexico, but his beautifully produced photographs can be gag-inducingly gross. For instance, Man Without a Head depicts a flabby naked guy slouched in a chair as if waiting for a medical exam, but he only has a bloody stump where his head should be. It gets even worse when you realize he doesn't do digital; all those body parts and bodies are real, products of the lax laws in places like Mexico and Poland. Man with Dog, Mexico City, below left, is somewhat more hopeful, a view of a nude transsexual who—from the waist up—looks like Frida Kahlo. Posed with her cute chihuahua she exudes gracious charm, but the tone, while elegant, still says “freak show.”
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.