Image: Intestine, male, African descent, 1849 cholera. Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians Philadelphia. Part of Wendel White‘s Manifest portfolio.
While social distance measures remain necessary, artists, writers, performers, and musicians continue to create in New Jersey. During this blog series, State of the Arts is reaching out to New Jersey creators to share their thoughts on art-making during lockdown.
Hear from photographer and educator Wendel White, who has been featured multiple times throughout the years on State of the Arts. A longtime enthusiast of sharing his work through virtual platforms, Wendel discusses how he’s been creating and sharing during the pandemic, highlighting the power of accessibility through both onsite and online media.
Has the pandemic and social distancing impacted your artistic process, or, thematically, your work?
There have been several impacts at various points throughout my practice. Two exhibitions scheduled for spring and summer were cancelled, though one is attempting to reschedule.
One of my spring exhibitions (a group show) is up and the dates have been extended but the gallery is not open. There was an opening reception just about one week before everything in NY shut down. The gallery has created a great virtual exhibition online.
I was involved in creating a VR version of a student exhibition and while not the same, it was at least helpful to have something that could be experienced in VR as an exhibition.
Unfortunately, I intended to use this time (before the pandemic) to begin work on a new project. I am not yet ready to discuss the project (it might not materialize), but it would have involved quite a bit of direct interaction with other people. Though obviously not ideal for these times, I will return to the idea in the future.
Meanwhile, I am editing and revising existing work, especially around the practice of medicine. Before the pandemic (during 2019) I was fortunate to have access to the collection at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Many of the images have taken on new meaning in the context of the pandemic.
Although it was disappointing when exhibitions were cancelled, one, a large survey of landscape photography, is going forward with plans for a book publication of the work planned for the exhibition. I don’t know yet whether the project will materialize, but the editors were interested in a recent and a much earlier piece. I was very happy to have this time to return to images in my earlier work.
Do you have any advice for artists who are being impacted by the pandemic?
I doubt that I have any great advice for other artists—I am also struggling to be productive right now. However, I have found that the time to think and review past work is incredibly helpful and I anticipate that this investment in reflection will also reap rewards. Certainly for some artists this can be a very productive time to create new works. Working during the pandemic and making imagery about the pandemic experience will be of great importance in the future.
Share your thoughts on the artistic community in New Jersey—how can the arts not only survive or adapt within the pandemic and lockdown, but also bring the community together?
I hope that the NJ arts institutions and communities will use this time to share information and access to the arts in new ways. I have been attending various webinar lectures and in many ways, I have had access to more presentations than normal. We should have as many artists lectures and curator led tours of collections around the state as possible. This could be a great opportunity to show off the arts in NJ in new ways to broader audiences. If there has been a “silver lining” it is that I have seen so many more arts programs around NJ—virtual poetry reading, artists lectures, interviews and of course the amazing repository of NJ artists within the State of the Arts video archives. The pandemic has allowed me more time and enthusiasm to engage with the “virtual” arts community around the state and the entire planet.
Does the experience of sharing your art virtually or remotely these days change your relationship with your audience at all?
The first web site of my work went on-line twenty-five years ago and during that time my work has been present in the on-line community, continuously. There has always been a traditional web site as well as other technologies and platforms. My web site was referenced in books about media on the web as early as 1996 (Multimedia Producers Bible) and in a recent history of social media (Social Media Archeology and Poetics, 2016, MIT Press) by Judy Malloy. Malloy was specifically concerned with the early on-line arts community known as “Arts Wire” (1990’s) and the various member projects.
I cannot imagine my work and career without the ability to provide remote access to my projects. In 2003 Matt Mirapaul wrote about the Black Towns site for the NYTimes—“But few photographers have embraced the Web to the extent that Mr. White has. Many sites are devoted to documentary, but they rarely amount to more than a slide show…With its mix of media, the new Black Towns site is an impressionistic experience.”
Although I am not producing on-line works (intended only for that space) I have always embraced the network as a place to allow direct access to my work and on a good day, it has enabled many wonderful conversations.
Follow Wendel White on Instagram and Twitter, and find his online portfolios at wendelwhite.com. See his group exhibition Visions 1020 at KENKELEBA HOUSE virtually through June 27, 2020.
To hear more from the artist, take a look at our past features with Wendel: