Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Batture: Jeff Whetstone at UNO St. Claude

If you had to name a single thing that defined this city, you'd be out of luck. But if you could name two, the river and the people might get you within striking distance. Both profoundly influence each other in a place where nature is an inescapable presence. Photographer Jeff Whetstone explores that lingering wild world in his Batture series focused on that shape-shifting sliver along the river where land and water change places with the seasons. As an unlikely urban wilderness that co-exists with massive industrial compounds and ships as big as tallest skyscrapers, the batture provides a haven for the fishermen and solitary wanderers whose presence blends seamlessly with its swampy foliage.

Batture fishermen are as varied as the city's neighborhoods, and many of Whetstone's subjects are  Vietnamese who might look at home on the Mekong Delta. In Eastern Hope, top, a man waste deep in water clutches a net as a massive ship, the “Eastern Hope,” plies the twilight waters amid the eerie glow of a nearby industrial compex. Here a solitary human looks puny and fragile against the vast river and its mechanical behemoths. Fish Pile is a night scene of a fisherman from the waste down as he stands over his haul of freshly caught catfish. Bathed in electric light, his grimy camouflage shorts and serpentine leg tattoos mimic the baroque foliage of the forest in the surrounding shadows. In another photo, Catfish, the remnants of a gutted, filleted catfish appear on a driftwood plank used as an impromptu cutting board. Not long dead, its open eyes and dozens of iridescent green bottle flies lend the scene the bejeweled presence of a Dutch baroque vanitas painting. That portentous, allegorical sensibility is elaborated in Snake, above, a view of a man clutching a snake by its head as its long, slender body coils around his lower arm. A Tennessee native trained in zoology, Whetstone illuminates the improbable mysteries of the batture as a kind of urban forest primeval. Further emphasizing the wildness theme, the walls of the gallery have been covered in a batture-based wallpaper that effectively makes the space an extension of the fringe of river forest that coexists with the city. ~Bookhardt / The Batture: Photographs by Jeff Whetstone (Prospect.4), Through Feb 25th, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

PhotoNOLA: Over 60 Venues through December

When Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans uninhabitable in 2005, many questioned if it would survive. Would its residents, including its legendary creative community, ever return? Artists responded with schemes that sounded like pipe dreams, but today both the Prospect New Orleans Triennial, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance's annual PhotoNOLA photography expo, are globally celebrated events. Both meander like loopy bon vivants at a city-wide Easter egg hunt, and sometimes even intersect: PhotoNOLA's opening event was headlined by Prospect.4 art star Xaviera Simmons at her New Orleans Museum of Art exhibit. While many of Prospect's 73 artists utilize photography, PhotoNOLA's ever-expanding roster features a diverse army of photographers  exhibited at over 60 venues ranging from our best known museums and galleries to the most obscure pop-up spaces.

Among the former, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, despite featuring an array of P.4 stuff, also hosts PhotoNOLA's Currents 2017 expo of work by 17 Photo Alliance members, including several like Aline Smithson (photo: Lisa, from the Fugue State, left )based in other cities. Other prominent local art spaces include A Gallery for Fine Photography, where P.4 artist Michel Varisco's surreal photos of Nola as a modern Atlantis, above, are featured, as well as colorfully focused group shows at the Front on St. Claude Ave., and at the Soren Christensen Gallery on Julia St. But PhotoNOLA shines a special light on exotic fare like Celia and Jose Fernandes' Insentient Objects exhibit at Gallery Eight One Eight on Royal St., or noted curator Richard McCabe's Land Star show of his recent photographs created with vintage Polaroid cameras on view at the obscure Little Shotgun House gallery on Maurepas St. But even St. Claude Avenue still surprises with places like the Grand Maltese Gallery, where the surreal Catharsis exhibit of work by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert probes an exotic psychic terrain where All Soul's day meets the swamp, for instance, in  Markert's Menage a Trois, top. Like its namesake city, PhotoNOLA 2017 is no slouch when it comes to encounters with the unexpected. ~Bookhardt / PhotoNOLA 2017: Citywide Photography Exhibitions, Through Dec. 31; New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030.