A recent event of defacement made it’s rounds on the internet when a traveler posted a photo from the Luxor Temple in Egypt to the Chinese social-media site Weibo. Etched over an ancient Egyptian carving were the words “Ding Jinhao was here.” After the dust of the social media outrage settled, writers and bloggers began to explore this “tradition” of travelers leaving their mark. It was even suggested that the short sentence scribbled by Ding Jinhao was actually a sly reference to another famous bit of graffiti.
Artist Jeff Whetstone, Chattanooga, Tennessee-born and Duke University alum, has spent decades chronicling the relationship between man and his surroundings. Johnny is one of the stand-outs from his Post Pleistocene photographic series that establishes the innate desire for we, as humans, to leave an indelible mark on our landscape.
“Johnny” sits cooly alone, isolated on it’s own stratum, surrounded by, but not abutting, other jumbled cave paintings. While the placement allows Johnny a moment in the spotlight, rather, Whetstone’s lighting gear that he hauled deep into the cave, the generic “heartland name” in the same color and font as Johnson & Johnson logo speaks to ubiquity and insignificance.
The line becomes ever fuzzier between the natural and human worlds. Is leaving our mark on our surroundings the ultimate testament to being there, having done that? Do we scrawl our name on something that was once considered immutable in the hopes that a passerby will take pause over something as simple as a name on a cave wall? Do we instinctively hope that our legacy won’t be whitewashed, that it might become part of a conversation?
Center image: Jeff Whetstone, Johnny, 2007. Chromogenic print, 40 x 50 inches (101.6 x 127 cm). Purchase, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University Fund for Acquisitions. 2010.4.1. © Jeff Whetstone.