Born and raised on Long Island, New York, photographer Jim Westphalen moved to Vermont in 1996 to be closer to the rural landscape that he loves. That love is reflected in his current body of work, Vanish: Inspired by such painters as A. Hale Johnson, Andrew Wyeth, and Edward Hopper, these photographs are windows on a world that is rapidly disappearing. Today Westphalen lives with his wife, Kendra, in Shelburne, Vermont, where he also runs his studio.
What’s your connection to New England?
I fell in love with New England — especially rural New England — while visiting friends in Vermont in the early 1990s. I never imagined making a living here as a commercial photographer, which was my focus at the time, but then I discovered the Burlington area. As they say, “The best thing about Burlington is that it’s so close to Vermont!”
I’ve always felt drawn to the rural landscape, especially what I call the “built” landscape: the fading rural structures that are the character and heritage of New England’s countryside. Sadly, they are disappearing at an alarming rate.
And, having grown up near the water, I also have a deep love of coastal Maine.
How did you get into photography?
I entered the field in 1980 working for a commercial photo lab, learning the “back end” of the art. I next worked for a portrait studio shooting high-end New York weddings. I lasted three years and knew this was not the photography I wanted to do. I’m mostly self-taught — first in commercial photography and then as a fine art photographer.
What equipment do you use?
I use a vintage 4×5 view camera, which I’ve now adapted to digital capture. It’s not the most compact rig to carry out into the field, but there’s no substitute for how I create my imagery.
What inspires you?
For my Vanish work, my primary inspiration comes from some remarkable American painters, both present and past. There’s A. Hale Johnson, with his sensitivity to light and the astounding detail he paints in weathered clapboard, lichen-covered stone foundations, and rusted roofs. And of course there’s Andrew Wyeth — we share an affinity for a somewhat idealized, if not stripped-down, rural landscape.
You can see more of Jim Westphalen’s work at jimwestphalenfineart.com and @jimwestphalen.