Vermont-Based Fine Art photographer Jim Westphalen

August 29, 2022

Photographer Jim Westphalen races against time to find beauty in decay.

Text by Robert Kiener

Vermont-based fine art photographer Jim Westphalen is a man on a mission. As he sits in his photo studio and sips a cup of piping-hot dark-roast coffee, he explains, “I often say that I’m in a race.” His blue eyes sparkle as the blond, sixty-three-year-old, six-footer pauses for another sip then continues: “I call it a ‘race’ because I’m hoping to capture with my camera the beauty in many of the region’s abandoned structures like barns, farm buildings, homes, and even churches. And at the rate they are decaying—and vanishing—I am literally in a race against time. When they are gone, they are gone. Forever.”

Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Westphalen has called Vermont home since 1996. He spent decades supporting himself as a commercial/architectural photographer(including shooting countless projects for New England Home) while taking time off to comb the countryside for those vanishing bits of history that catch his eye. He explains that he is attracted to the aesthetics of a weathered, time-ravaged building but also considers himself privileged to be preserving bits of our past. “I feel there are these pieces of American history that are fading. Each tells a story of the people who built our nation,” he says.

Westphalen creates his images using a vintage four-by-five view camera. To set himself apart from other fine art photographers, Westphalen presents
his photographs much like painters present their work, mounting each one in a floating frame and varnishing them instead of covering the images with glass. “This helps make the work clean, and there’s no glass to prevent the viewer from getting close to the highly detailed print. I want the experience to be more tactile, as if viewers can ‘enter’ the photograph,” he explains.

Westphalen’s series of vanishing structures has struck a chord with buyers, and he has given up his commercial work to concentrate on his art. He is represented by several galleries throughout New England and the West. “Jim’s work really grabs people,” says Theresa Harris, director of Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont. “They have this amazing painterly quality and offer intriguing glimpses into New England’s quickly vanishing heritage.”

Editor’s Note: Jim Westphalen is represented by galleries in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. For a full list or to see more of his work, visit jimwestphalenfineart.com.