Personal Projects and Fine Art

Westenberger’s success provided her with the resources to travel and focus on her fine art work. In 1989 she traveled and photographed in Thailand. In the 1990s she made multiple trips to Italy, France, India, and Guatemala. On these trips she produced fine art work that contrasts stylistically and technically with her commercial assignment work. Westenberger’s preferred cameras while traveling were often cheap plastic cameras with the brand names Diana or Holga, both of which were mass produced as toys. The results were unpredictable, less-than-sharp, and vignetted images. These imperfections add a mysterious, soulful quality and timelessness to her images.

Westenberger also used infrared film in her Nikon FE camera. She was very aware of the resulting tonal changes and contrast shifts, using this film to produce dramatic, ethereal images that, when printed, became the perfect canvas for the oil paint she applied to create one-of-a-kind, hand-colored prints.

Westenberger had a lifelong interest in costumes, parade, and pageantry—influenced, no doubt, by the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Her visit to Venice for Carnevale in 1996 produced striking images of costumed characters at private balls, in cafés, and in the streets. Life magazine published some of these images in 1997, and she secured an assignment to shoot a cover story for National Geographic Traveler in 1998.

She researched other pre-Lenten rituals, and in 2002 went to Pjut in Slovenia to photograph the Kurentovanje Festival. The following year she shot the Carnival in Trinidad.

The Westenberger Archives show how this photographer’s fine art work began and matured during her lifetime. Through its contents, we can see Westenberger maintaining a very successful commercial career producing technically perfect, colorful images. In contrast, her fine art work embraced imperfection and unusual, unsophisticated tools that were combined with excellent printing and hand-coloring. 

By the 1990s, she was so well thought of and so well connected that she was hired to execute assignments in her personal style. She produced images for the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles for use in advertising and for sale as fine art prints.

Although she did not succeed in securing a publisher, she continued to develop projects. We have book “dummies,” or layouts, and proposals for three other books. One, Great American Families, was inspired by a 1986 shoot for Life magazine called the “First Families of Film,” featuring such families as the Carradines, Douglasses, and Pecks.

In 2004 she produced a book dummy called Venice Unmasqued, featuring her images of the Venice Carnevale photographed between 1996 and 1998.

Westenberger, who had been adopted as an infant, found her birth mother in 2001. Inspired by this joyful experience, she proposed a book about adoption called Twice Born and applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete the project.

Westenberger married Jay Colton in 1987, and they divorced in 1991. In 2004 she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Because she had so many friends in the photography business and did not want to stop working, she kept her illness private. In November 2007 she photographed Calvin Trillin for Architectural Digest. This turned out to be her last assignment. She passed away on February 28, 2008.