“I bought 5,000 scrabble pieces on ebay. I needed a lot of pieces because I only wanted the letters from Trenton Makes The World Takes.” Jeff Whetstone became obsessed with the letters on the Trenton Bridge. The letters became the subject matter of his new series of photographs at the Julie Saul Gallery: Crossing The Delaware on view until March 11, 2017.
The letters looked like the infrastructure of bridge. Using a large format cameras (8 x 10, 4 x 5, 120 roll film and a digital camera) Jeff started harvesting the letters. All the photographs (composed of multiple photographs “collaged” together are contact prints arranged as compositions on a large light table and photographed as one piece.
The Trenton Bridge was constructed by the Roebling Company, who were also responsible for Brooklyn Bridge, The Manhattan Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. All these bridges were built from parts and cables made in Trenton.
The original saying THE WORLD TAKES WHAT TRENTON MAKES (1935) was re-imagined and now reads TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES (1981). In a conversation with James Welling on Saturday, Whetstone talked humorously about his fixation and addiction to the letters on this bridge. “From the Lower Trenton Bridge, where the letters are hung, the landscape of the Delaware River unwinds from behind the text. The slogan is read in reverse, and the letters are embedded among the riveted steel girders and beams of the bridge. Trenton Bridge is barely two lanes wide. Traffic is slowgoing. Birds flock on its pilings. They build their NESTS in the crooks of the Ns. There is a WREN in W. They fly underneath the bridge and swoop close to the surface of the river. It feels wonderful to walk on a bridge over birds in flight. LARK. TERN. HAWK.” Jeff Whetstone
“I wanted the letters to say something.”
Whetstone’s photographs play around with scale, expanding and contracting, zooming in and zooming out. Seeing the letters backwards, aligning the letters with the infrastructure of the bridge, making a photograph of van driver where the roof of the van in the photograph lines up perfectly with infrastructure of the bridge. Some of photographs have the following titles: AMEN, SEEK ANOTHER NEXT, THESE HANDS OWNERS THROAT, ROADS MEANS ROADS END, NONONONO, HAND HEWN, HEEL HAND KNEE. DONT KNOW WONT KNOW, the title of one of the photographs is from a conversation Jeff heard on the bridge.
One aspects of these photographs, I love is their hand-made quality. Asked about using digital camera and resulting work on the computer. Jeff had this to say: I feel like an accountant when I do digital work. I was drawn to photography because I wanted to be IN the world.”
The next time I am near this bridge, I will be making a detour. In the meantime see how many words you make from TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES.