March 2003
In desolate settings, a laboratory of form
Windows and ruins make natural photographic subjects, because every picture opens a window on an instant long gone. They converge arrestingly in the recent work of Katherine Westerhout at the Berkeley Art Center.

Many photographers who study industrial ruins•8•8•8Hilla and Bernd Becher, Ed Burtynsky, Robert Bourdeau•8•8•8have some point to make about social amnesia or ecological waste. Westerhout steals into derelict factories, warehouses and movie theaters because they present formal opportunities not easily found elsewhere.

When daylight blares through a high open door in •8•8•8The Fox•8•8•8 (1999) and sheets over the ornate ceiling and walls, it makes the abandoned movie house look like a freshly excavated imperial tomb. The theater appears to interest Westerhout more for the kind of picture space it offers than as a relic of modern culture, despite the echo of the projector beam in the stream of light from outside.

A second picture of the same subject, with Westerhout•8•8•8s shadow falling on the tattered stage curtain, looks like a rejoinder to Hiroshi Sugimoto•8•8•8s famous shots of movie houses with their screens blankly aglow from exposures so long they capture the light on an entire film.

Most of the pictures on view describe disused factory buildings.
Any one of them might spur reflection on the mercilessness of capitalism, but again the forsaken architecture plainly interests Westerhout for the rich aesthetic articulations it offers.

In •8•8•8Richmond I•8•8•8 (2002), she set her camera close to the crook of a huge L-shaped factory interior, directly facing a flaking concrete wall in the middle ground. The interruption of the picture space where that wall ends, and the abrupt recession of the adjacent space beyond it, create the false impression that Westerhout has manipulated the image. So does the horizontal symmetry of the factory walls and windows reflected in the rainwater pooled over much of the floor.

Here and elsewhere in Westerhout•8•8•8s images occur reminders of the way frontality joins sharp-angled recession in the architecture depicted in classic Japanese screen paintings.

Some of the artistry in Westerhout•8•8•8s recent works lies in her discovery of situations where she can take a straight photograph whose veracity makes it look manipulated. The pictures•8•8•8 surprise depends on her precise choice of vantage point and the fall of light.

Each picture guides us in the delectation of natural light. For that reason, I prefer the visual grain of the inkjet pigment prints on paper to that of the inkjet prints on canvas, which Westerhout has been perfecting recently.

The stretched canvases have greater presence as objects and do not require framing behind glass, but up close the canvas tooth imposes a dullness on the images out of keeping with their internal brilliance.
Do not overlook the remarkable sample, just inside the front door, of Westerhout•8•8•8s translation of a picture fragment into textile form. Working with a jacquard loom that can take digital input, she has begun remaking photographic images as tapestries. To judge by the fragment here, the process holds tremendous promise.


BAY AREA photographer Katherine Westerhout brings Derelict buildings back to life with pictorial aesthetics. Stealing into abandoned industrial structures (above), some demolished since she documented them, Westerhout finds elegant symmetries and oceans of light in forgotten settings.
- Kenneth Baker

KATHERINE WESTERHOUT: PHOTOGRAPHS. Opens today, Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley. Noon to 5 p.m. Weds.-Sun, (510) 644-6893,

KATHERINE'S WESTERHOUT'S "Richmond I": Light and space at work in a long-idle factory.

Creatively abandoned

There's something artistic about an empty building. Well, it is throuogh th elens of Katherine Westerhout. Westerhout's large-scale digital photos are printed in pigment on canvas using an inkjet printer and are on displayat the Berkeley Art Center. Her photos include the Fox Theater and the Montgomery Ward building. There is a receptions for the artists on Sunday and a discussion with her on March 22.

Critics' Picks
Art: Bay Area photographer Katherine Westerhout takes pictures inside abandoned factories (detail, pictured), finding glories of symmetry and reflected light amid the ruins of industrialism. Her pictures, many of them pigment prints on canvas, meditate on transience yet avoid elegiac and cautionary sentiment. In their unfashionable formalism, they make a memorable show.
© 2020 Katherine Westerhout. All rights reserved.