Through this compelling body of photographs, Jim Westphalen brings to us a remarkable story of past and present; a gripping narrative that speaks to the decay of the built landscape in rural America. The structures that are the very foundation of our country’s rural heritage, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
By focusing on the rich details in each of his iconic images, we discover intriguing clues that display profound testaments to the initiatives and enterprises of generations of rural Americans. And by reflecting on these tangible clues, we feel intangible connections to their hopes and ambitions, to their toils and accomplishments, as well as to their disappointments and losses. Indeed, each of these images has more to tell us as we reflect on the hints they provide about the lives of the many generations of rural Americans who lived and worked in these places.
It is clear that we are currently witnessing a period of profound loss of the physical evidence of these past generations. In numerous cases this is because many of these barns, coal sheds, grain elevators etc., built a century or more ago became obsolete due to changes in farming practices, mechanization and a range of economic factors. The subsequent de-population of many rural areas and the persistent economic hardships experienced by those rural American residents can be witnessed in what is now left of ghost towns and faltering structures all across the country. In many cases, Westphalen’s captivating images are the only evidence that they ever existed.
May this collection of photographs be motivation for us to open our eyes and appreciate what we have for this brief moment in time. May it prompt us to connect with the elders of our current generation and those who know the history of the land before they too are no longer with us. And finally, may it be an encouragement to treasure these icons, for sadly most will eventually succumb and fold into the soil on which they were built upon, taking their stories with them.