In his introduction to Tideland, a new book from Schilt Publishing, David Campany calls David Batchelder’s pictures “termite art,” after film critic Manny Farber’s affectionate term for art made with “a bug-like immersion in a small area without point or aim.” The metaphor works well for Batchelder’s project—like termites, he has produced something vast, beige and concerned with the ground, not unlike a termite mound. But rather than working with dirt, Batchelder has focused on sand. The book includes more than 200 pictures made on beaches around the Isle of Palms, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina—only a fraction of the 2,000 proof prints and 1,200 finished prints Batchelder made over the course of the five year project.
In the abstract arrangements of dark and light sand pushed into infinite shapes by moving water, Batchelder provides a kind of blank canvas onto which the viewer can project just about anything. The occasional rock or sand dollar provides a sense of scale, and sunlight sometimes suggests the time of day, but mostly these images are a vast ocean of pure form. “And so Batchelder continues to pick over his beach, Beckett-like, never quite knowing what will be encountered,” writes Campany. Like Waiting for Godot, nothing much happens, but what that means is up to you. “Images will not carry meanings the way trucks carry coal,” writes Campany. “They are too wayward for that.”