Jeff Whetsone Named Director of Princeton University’s Program in Visual Arts
Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts has named award-winning photographer Jeff Whetstone as the new director of the University’s Program in Visual Arts. Whetstone has been a member of the visual arts faculty since 2015 and succeeds Martha Friedman, who has directed the program since 2016 and will return to teaching full-time.
Whetstone’s photographs and films imagine America through lenses of anthropology and mythology. His Post-Pleistocene series illuminates the depths of wild caves in Alabama and Tennessee where layers of human markings reveal millennia of cultural evolution. His ongoing New Wilderness project portrays a human-centric American wilderness and questions how human cultural connection to the wild is revealed in contemporary times. Whetstone’s artwork also investigates the role gender, geography, and heritage play in defining the human position in the natural world. A self-described biologist at heart, he explores the cyclical and evolving narrative of landscapes as 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. For Whetstone, the natural world is a cultural experience, and the built environment is firmly, yet problematically, situated within the web of nature.
Over the course of his academic career, Whetstone has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. His work has been exhibited internationally and has received reviews in ArtForum, Art in America, Frieze, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times. Whetstone first exhibited video work in 2011 when his experimental narrative short, On the Use of Syrinx, premiered at the Moving Image Festival in New York. A second exhibition in 2011 at Julie Saul Gallery, titled Seducing Birds, Snakes, and Men, introduced Whetstone’s work in animation and video to a wide audience. His work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Nasher Museum, Nelson Atkins Museum, Cleveland Art Museum, Yale Art Gallery, New York Public Library, and many others.
Now based in New York City, Whetstone was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and entered Duke University as a mathematics major. He describes his long arc from the sciences to art as an effort to complete a circle. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in zoology and a certificate in film studies, he took a position as an artist-in-residence at Applashop, a documentary arts cooperative in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. He also worked for the local paper, where he may have been one of the only journalists in the nation to use an antique large format view camera. After receiving his Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Photography in 2001, where he was the recipient of the George Sakier Prize for Photography, Whetstone was appointed lecturer at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was named full professor there in 2012.
Since joining the Princeton faculty six years ago, Whetstone has taught courses in digital and analog photography, portraiture, and courses that interweave photography with sociology and environmental science. Among these are “A River Runs Through Us,” a course in which students employed ethnographic study, poetry, and visual art to document the Millstone River that runs through Princeton’s campus, bringing native and institutional histories, ecology, industry, recreational, and activist worlds into conversation; “The Port of New Orleans: Culture and Climate Change,” which used this city — decades ahead of any other U.S. city with respect to the effects of climate change — to examine how cooperation between cultural and scientific communities can provide valuable, sustainable strategies; and “Photographic Portraiture: The Practice of Representation,” which investigated the practical and theoretical issues of photographic portraiture’s notions of identity, race, and gender. This last course led to a University exhibition co-curated by Whetstone, under the auspices of the Campus Iconography Committee, on which he has served, that featured photographs by Princeton students and recent graduates. The exhibit focused on the University’s diverse student population, their experiences at home, and their lives at Princeton; the images revealed the hyphenated lives that students lead — between cultures, identities, and spaces.
More than 500 students enroll each year in the 45-plus courses offered by the Program in Visual Arts in painting, drawing, graphic design, photography, sculpture, film, video, and film history and theory, which are taught by a distinguished faculty of working artists, critics, and scholars. Students may pursue a certificate in visual arts, similar to a minor, in addition to a degree in their major. They may also major in visual arts through a collaboration between the Lewis Center and the Department of Art and Archaeology. The program annually presents a series of senior thesis exhibitions, offering students the opportunity to design and execute their artistic visions, as well as to test the skills they have honed in the classroom and in the public arena.
To learn more about the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Program in Visual Arts, visit arts.princeton.edu.