Julie Saul Gallery is pleased to announce Batture Ritual, our fourth solo show featuring Jeff Whetstone. In 2016, Trevor Schoonmaker, Curator of Contemporary Art and Associate Director at the Nasher Museum at Duke University, invited Whetstone to participate in Prospect 4, the New Orleans triennial launched in 2008. Whetstone, a Tennessee native with a long career exploring the culture and environment of the South through photography, added a unique perspective to the exhibition. We will present a variation of the P4 exhibition, which was hosted by the University of New Orleans, St. Claude Gallery.
Jeff Whetstone’s photographs and videos explore the micro- and macro-economies and ecologies along the Mississippi River’s batture near New Orleans, Louisiana. “Batture” is the French-creole term for the thin strip of weeds, trees, and mud between the water’s edge of the Mississippi River and the tall, hardened levees that contain its floods. The batture is ephemeral. It disappears when the river is high and re-emerges when the tide falls; it is swept and transformed. It is a cyclical land, untied to human time, unclaimed, and unowned, a temporary alluvial wilderness. Families fishing for food come within feet of international oil tankers and container ships that facilitate global trade. Whetstone does not depict the batture as a dividing line, but rather a magnet that draws animals and industry, fishermen and ocean ships, all manner of life into contact.
Whetstone portrays this interstitial zone with a nocturnal palette lit by industrial light sources, ship’s beacons, and the full moon. The stark architecture of cargo ships provides a background to Whetstone’s portraits of fishermen and women lit by the slanting light across the flood plain. Close-ups of gutted catfish gleaming with jewel-like flies, a coiled snake wrapped around a fisherman’s wrist like an amulet, transform the site’s role of an industrial trade artery into a place of ritual and sacrifice.
At the center of Batture Ritual series is a 24-minute video that charts the course of a day on the river’s edge. The video was shot over the span of two years, and Whetstone positioned his camera on a singular willow tree and recorded, as Eva Diaz of 4Columns recounts, “enormous container ships from parts international … moving doggedly along the Mississippi, dwarfing but not extinguishing the precarious existence of the men and women who haunt the spaces no one else uses, and presenting an affecting document of the gleaners and gatherers—the fisherman, snake catchers, and flotsam collectors—that capitalism neglects.”
Whetstone earned a degree in Zoology at Duke University and an MFA at Yale. A self-described biologist at heart, Whetstone explores the cyclical and evolving narrative of a landscape that is not merely a setting for human activity, but a force that compels humans to adapt. His work varies considerably with each project, but always addresses the particularities of a place and explores interplay between geography and human experience.
Whetstone’s most recent show at the gallery in early 2017, Crossing the Delaware, was a departure from previous series and was made in Trenton, New Jersey. A series of experimental silver/gelatin constructed images/poems, it incorporates the famous slogan on the Lower Trenton Bridge:“Trenton Makes the World Takes.”.Works from Crossing were acquired by the Whitney Museum, Princeton University Art Museum, The New York Public Library, The North Carolina Museum of Art, and the Nelson Atkins Museum. Earlier works are also included in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, The Clevelend Art Museum, The Nasher Museum at Duke. Among many other awards, Whetstone received a Guggehehim Fellowship in 2008. He is currently the head of Photography at Princeton University.