Carsten Witte: The Disturbing Face of Beauty

3rd July 2012

When reading the poems from Charles Baudelaire's collection Les Fleurs du Mal [Flowers of Evil], one can see how his perception of beauty mingles, both closely and dangerously, with the concepts of eroticism, death and the sublime. This discomforting yet enticing sense is one which I am also given, in a rather strange way, as I browse through the gallery of artist and fashion photographer Cartsen Witte: dark, highly conceptual, and somehow incredibly seductive, Witte's photographs are, in my eyes, perfect examples of art which belong to the realm of the bizarrely beautiful.

It is clear from his photographs that Hamburg-based Witte, who describes himself as the “venerable priest of beauty”, places much value in the aesthetics behind his work. It appears that his use of photography is to capture both the essence and the ephemeral quality of beauty, which he depicts in most of his work with representations of nude female models – representations which, I believe, quite masterfully straddle the line between elegance and eroticism.
It is most notably from observing his two series Intuition and Psyche, that one can come to draw such a conclusion of Witte's work and his creative identity: in the former series, Witte engages in an examination of the frailty of beauty through the fascinatingly morbid skulls painted onto his models' faces. As the photographer himself claims, “one main idea behind [this series] is the belief that everything is constantly changing but photography can preserve the moment. Beauty is almost nothing without the knowledge of how fast it will fade.”

Beauty Masks

This striking consideration of the life, death, and temporality of beauty is equally found in Psyche, a series which also makes strong use of the female body to bring its point across to the viewer: defined by both a creative play with shadows and a formidable contrast of colour, Witte's subjects are quite frighteningly likened to framed displays of pinned butterflies. This enables them to come across as fragile and graceful, and therefore to take on a strikingly alluring appearance despite the disquieting underlying theme of death.

There is no doubt that Witte's photographic work honours the sensuality, power, and fineness of the female body, albeit in ways which sometimes flirt with more out-of-the-ordinary and unsettling themes. His work demonstrates a recurrent use of black-and-white, as well as an agile manipulation of shadows to create meaning and deliver specific concepts with force; in fact, such traits seem to be the key elements which lend Witte's photographs their mysteriousness, highlight their often fantasy-like character, and enable them to so easily captivate the viewer.

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