Witkin & Witkin

The world is full of things we can’t see, even if they occur right in front of our eyes. With his surreal, often grotesque, sometimes unsettling, staged photographs, Joel-Peter Witkin creates a visual language for them. The world is also full of things we deliberately choose not to see. The socio-politically engaged figurative painter Jerome Witkin urges us with historically charged pictures to look at them.

Joel and Jerome are identical twins but they could not be any more different; at least this is the view taken by the two artists who, for the larger part of their lives, went separate ways. Filmmaker Trisha Ziff, in her fascinating portrait, interviews close relatives and co-workers of the dissimilar brothers but the major portion of the film’s time is reserved for the Witkins’ own storytelling. While Joel and Jerome talk about their differences, the camera observes the two faces in close-up and in great detail. As one listens to Joel and Jerome pointing at their dissimilarities, one instinctively tries to seek out their similarities. Ziff subtly uses the juxtaposition of the frequently opposing visual and verbal “stories”. In doing so, she creates not only an intimate artists portrait but also a brilliant filmic reflection on seeing and perception: In search of likeness one repeatedly stumbles upon differences, in face of the differences one often is surprised by likeness.

And yet, Ziff’s film supports the lasting impression that the work of both artists is driven by an equally deep-felt humanism. So, at the end of the day, the remarkable brothers may well be similar – but they are still nowhere near identical.

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Trisha Ziff

Trisha Ziff is the founding director of the production company 212BERLIN. She is a documentary filmmaker and curator of phototography, has worked in the visual arts for over thirty years, running community arts workshops in both photography and film at Camerwork in the East End of London and Camerawork Derry in Northern Ireland, before moving to Los Angeles and later to Mexico City. She is a Guggenheim scholar and recipient of many awards for funding in the USA, England and in Mexico. In 2008, she made her directorial debut with Netflix, Chevolution, the story of a T-shirt with an image of Che Guevara. In 2011, she produced and directed The Mexican Suitcase, which looked at the 4,500 negatives recovered from the Spanish Civil War in Mexico by some of the greatest photo-journalists of the early twentieth century, Capa, Chim and Taro. In 2015, she released The Man Who Saw Too Much, which earned her the Mexican Academy Award of Arts and Sciences.