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Theo Westenberger

Vintage Hand-Painted Photographs

California Neutra Poolhouse 1, 1975, 16" x 20"

I knew Theo very little before her too short, peripatetic, resolutely creative life ended on February 28, 2008. I met her in Cuba in 1992, we spent a week in Havana together where she photographed Castro for Vanity Fair and I accompanied Anne Louise Bardach, who wrote the story. I saw Theo one more time, when she came to stay at my house in Hollywood. She had come to LA to ask for a show of her photographs at my gallery. I turned her down. It wasn’t that the work was not perfect. It was. In a time when commercial female photographers were virtually non-existent, Theo had shot three presidents and an award-winning array of covers of actors like Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Aniston for the best magazines in the world. But it was consummately professional photography that Theo showed me, not the skewed, deeply personal vision that could only belong to a singular eye. Had Theo showed me her hand painted photographs, the series, Flavors In 1975, I would have jumped at the chance. Lucky, for me and unlucky for me, because I didn’t speak to Theo again until 3 weeks before her death. I hope my love for Flavors In 1975 and the great privilege of representing the work will inspire equal awe, delight, and remembrance of Theo Westenberger, the artist, the consummate photographer, the laughing lovely girl. Theo had grown up in a Richard Neutra house in La, Canada-Flintridge and these are the photographs of a homegrown eye. They are exquisite perceptions of a specific moment and a particular place, so captivating of that time and that place that the fact that a look from our vantage point from the twenty first century backwards to the used car lots, miniature golf courses, detritus of the Rose Parade, Goodyear blimp, and Cinderella’s castle doesn’t render them clichés, is almost an impossibility. Yet Theo pulls it off. Yes, these are our perceptions too, this is how we all remember the California of the seventies, but each photograph holds a particular surprise, a pop and a power that blows them out of the ball park (even if it is Disneyland). There was no Photoshop in 1975, the happy incongruities had nothing to do with iphoto or even luck, just everything to say about Theo Westenberger’s gift and her sense of humor. Using Marshall’s oil paints on black and white prints, she radically recreated her environment to realize her very own private left coast, a gorgeous place in living color that is to be her living legacy.

- Laurie Frank

California Flavors in 1975, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Miniature Golf 2, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Garden 1, 1975, 16" x 20"

Califorinia Roadscape 2, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Miniature Golf 3, 1975, 16" x 20"

The Ruby and the Pearl, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Blimp 1, 1975, 16" x 20"

Bon Voyage, 1975, 16" x 20"

Bette Midler, 1975, 4" x 6"

California Wedding 1, 1975, 16" x 20"

Half Eaten 3, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Cactus 1, 1975, 11" x 14"

California Garden 3, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Couple 1975, 1975, 16" x 20"

Brooke Shields, 1975, 4" x 6"

California Cactus 3, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Blimp 3, 1975, 11" x 14"

California Neutra Poolhouse 2, 1975, 16" x 20"

Sophia Loren, 1975, 4" x 6"

The Jade, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Roadscape 1, 1975, 16" x 20"

California Miniature Golf 4, 1975, 16" x 20"

Patti LuPone, 1975, 4 "x 6"


Obituary of the Artist
PDN Magazine

Theo Westenberger, Magazine And Advertising Photographer, Dies At 57

February 29, 2008

By Daryl Lang

Theo Westenberger, whose versatility with portraits and travel images won her recognition as a top magazine and advertising photographer, has died.

Westenberger died Thursday at her home in New York after a four-year battle with lung cancer, according to Colleen Keegan, a friend and her artistic executor. She was 57.

Westenberger continued to work until about four months ago, when she completed her last assignment for Architectural Digest, Keegan says.

Westenberger studied at Dartmouth College, earned an MFA from the Pratt Institute and began her photo career working in the studio of advertising photographer David Langley. She later took a job as a junior photographer at Look magazine.

She had been at Look only six months when the magazine folded in 1980. Westenberger made the best of the situation, keeping in touch with her former Look editors as they took new jobs at other magazines.

"Because I'd been such a great little gofer and they liked me, they took chances on me and hired me for little jobs at the magazines they went to," Westenberger recalled in a 1992 PDN interview. "A lot of the jobs I wasn't really prepared to shoot, so I had to figure it out as I went along."

Soon, Westenberger was shooting for the likes of New York and Time. Her client list grew to include movie studios, ad agencies and numerous other magazines including Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Life, Entertainment Weekly and National Geographic Traveler, where she was a contributing editor for several years.

Over the years Westenberger photographed noteworthy figures including Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep and three presidents. She was selected by the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences to take a group photo of all the women who have ever received an Academy Award. The U.S. Postal Service chose two of her photographs of Native American dancers to reproduce on stamps.

She also taught workshops in lighting and portraiture and earned respect as a fine art photographer. This September, Westenberger will be the subject of a show at Frank Pictures Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif.

"Theo's photographs were so lyrical, and she really captured the essence of what's masculine and feminine in the landscape. She gave everything a humanity," says Laurie Frank of Frank Pictures Gallery, who met Westenberger on a 1993 trip to Cuba. "She was a cowgirl. This was somebody who just rode the bucking bronco. She just forged ahead."

"She had an amazing warmth and curiosity," says friend Cyndi Stivers, a media consultant who met Westenberger when the two worked on a Life magazine assignment in 1983. "You couldn't have an assignment with Theo and not have a good time."

Westenberger is survived by a sister and three nieces and nephews. A memorial service is being planned for this spring in Southampton, N.Y.; details will be announced on Westenberger's Web site.

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