Professor Whetstone’s photographs and films imagine America through the lenses of anthropology and mythology. Whetstone’s 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 our cultural connection to the wild is shown in contemporary times. Whetstone’s artwork investigates the role gender, geography, and heritage play in defining the human position in the natural world. A self-described biologist at heart, Whetstone explores the cyclical and evolving narrative of landscapes that are not merely a setting for human activity but a force that compels humans to adapt. His work varies considerably with each project, but he always addresses the particularities of a place and explores the 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.
Throughout his academic career, Whetstone has received 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 broad audience. Whetstone earned his M.F.A. from the Yale School of Photography in 2001, where he received the George Sakier Prize for Photography. His work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Nasher Museum, the Nelson Atkins Museum, the Cleveland Art Museum, the Yale Art Gallery, the New York Public Library, and many others.
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, Whetstone took a position as an artist-in-residence at Applashop, a documentary arts cooperative in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. He 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 Yale in 2001, Whetstone was appointed lecturer at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was named full professor at U.N.C. in 2012. Whetstone joined the Princeton faculty as Professor of Photography in 2015 and was appointed Director of the Visual Arts Program in 2021. He and his wife, Stephanie, a writer, have two sons and live in New York City.