Instead of glamorous hotspots, famous faces and iconic structures, Oakland-based photographer Katherine Westerhout prefers just the opposite. Rather than the latest and greatest venues du jour and the throngs that flock to them, Westerhout has built a career on creating large-scale images which capture the empty places long since forgotten by the general public — including abandoned hospitals, churches, and theaters.
“I’ve been photographing in abandoned buildings for about 12 years now, and what I am so drawn to is the way the light enters these buildings and the way it carries color, from the outside, depending on the time of day,” Westerhout explains to Spark during a photo shoot at the train depot at 16th and Wood streets in West Oakland.
Using only available light, Westerhout prefers to work from October to April, when the sun is closest to the horizon. She is attracted to subjects like the deteriorating station, which is a 1912 Beaux Arts gem and historical landmark, for the sense of mystery that accompanies the absence of human sound and movement. At the same time, Westerhout uses her photography to preserve a part of history that would otherwise be erased as new buildings and developments arrive to replace the old.
“The train station itself has a special feeling because of its history, because of its inherent beauty. But I also grew up in Oakland. And so the opportunity to photograph here, it feels like I’m giving a little back to my city and helping to preserve it,” she says.
Westerhout earned a B.A. in art from San Francisco State University and has been exhibiting her photographs since the late 1990s. Her work has appeared in shows in the United States and internationally, at such venues as New York’s Sepia International Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery, the Oakland Museum of California, the San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art, the Berkeley Art Center, the Michael Hoppen Gallery (London, England) and the Biblioteca Nacional (Havana, Cuba).
More about the 16th Street Station:
West Oakland’s 16th Street Train Station is an important historic and cultural landmark. Built in 1912 at the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, for decades the station served as a beacon of hope for European immigrants and American migrants seeking a better life in California. Designed by Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt in the Beaux Arts style, the station boasted an intermodal transportation system ahead of its time — cross-country travelers could arrive on Southern Pacific trains and transfer to streetcars that would take them to destinations throughout the Bay Area.
The train station was abandoned after damage from 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake rendered it unsafe. Since then it’s fallen victim to vandals, the elements, and general neglect. Originally purchased in 2000 by Holliday Development, plans for restoration and redevelopment of the station (now known as Central Station) are currently being spearheaded by Oakland developer Phil Tagami. Once plans and funding sources have been finalized, Central Station will operate as a nonprofit community center, alongside parks, shops and new homes in the 29-acre area.