It was 2001 and we had just finished New York, our first Platinum Series title to great success. John Wood and I wanted to include Joel-Peter Witkin in our first anthology, The Journal of Contemporary Photography: Volume I, but he declined. On August 28, 2001, however, I sent Joel a fax proposing Songs of Experience. He faxed us within 15 minutes accepting our offer. Songs of Innocence followed in 2002.
Many have asked: "What is Joel like?" Having worked with him over the past 13 years now and after having completed four titles with him, I have gotten to know him pretty well. Joel is a religious man, and at the same time very funny too. There were periods when working on our books together that Joel would call weekly just to tell me a joke or two. For example: "What did the 0 say to the 8?.....nice belt."
What humors me is Joel's conviction to his jokes and his delivery. He can also be very serious, which is reflected in much of his work. Because many people seem very curious about the man behind the work, I jumped at his offer to publish his journals culminating in The Journal of Joel-Peter Witkin.
A very interesting story relating to The Journal of Joel-Peter Witkin, is a letter that he received from Christine Grant just weeks before sending me his materials. Joel agreed that the letter should be the introduction:
April 12, 2007
Dear Mr. Witkin,
I could not find your email address or I'd have cluttered that rather than your home mail. I happened upon your work, then read that you had been influenced by an accident you witnessed as a child in New York City in which a girl was decapitated. My father was there that day and saw the same accident and the vision of it did not leave him, either. It had to have been the same accident-I can't imagine such a thing is a common occurrence. He spoke of seeing the head rolling in the street. He said he could not sleep or eat for weeks after and he had nightmares about it throughout his life.
Indirectly, my sister and I were also influenced by that event. His telling of it brought mortality into our lives much too early. We never had the comfort of believing that only the old died-that death was far away in some indeterminate future. Then and now, we have the weight of time's limitations on our shoulders. Your work seems to have upset a fair number of people. I am glad for you that you have been able to forge your demons on the anvil of creation. I wish my father had been able to do the same.