A few years ago, Kevin Douglas West was visiting his father’s cabin in Bedford.
His dad was terminally ill and in the final weeks of his life, and West would do work for his job during the day and then go for a drive about 4 p.m. when his father was able.
One day, knowing his son’s interest in photography, West’s father said, “I know you want to photograph something neat, and I have an idea.”
His father had heard about a round barn in the area. They couldn’t find that one, but they came across another one — the Stuckwish Round Barn in Driftwood Township in Jackson County.
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West, a Seymour native who now lives in Katy, Texas, had never seen a round barn. As he drove up to it and stopped on the road, he accidentally locked his keys in the truck.
Someone from the sheriff’s department came out to unlock his truck, and in the meantime, a neighbor came out and opened the barn so West and his father could take a look inside.
“It’s one of my favorite memories of my life with my dad,” West said. “That is what started the infatuation with round barns.”
West began researching round barns and learned that, from 1890 to 1930, more than 225 round barns were built in Indiana, the most of any state.
According to John Hanou’s book, “A Round Indiana: Round Barns in the Hoosier State,” Benton Steele designed, built and promoted round barns, and it became a competition among farmers to build them bigger and bigger.
The Depression, however, pretty much killed the building boom of round barns.
When West learned only 20 round barns remain in southern Indiana, including two in Jackson County, he decided it was time to cross an item off of his bucket list — publishing a book.
“I thought it would be a novel, but photography has become such a big part of my life in the last five years that publishing a photography book became a more realistic thing to do,” he said.
In 2013, West began taking pictures of Indiana’s round barns. He referred to Hanou’s book and Dale Travis’ list of round barns in Indiana to find them.
“Finding these barns is a challenge. So much of the work to get a photograph is the preplanning of the trip,” West said. “What I love about Dale’s work is that he has GPS codes for all of the locations, so finding them on Google Images and while driving saved me so much time.”
While visiting the barns, he was able to learn more about them by talking to the owners.
“The best part about it is hunting the barns,” he said. “They are all on back rural roads and take time and patience to get to. Sometimes, it took me over an hour to find one. But the feeling of turning a corner down a farm road and seeing a round barn ahead of you filled me with adrenaline.”
In early 2015, he finally finished taking pictures of all 20 barns and was able to begin working on his book.
“I had so much fun those two days that I decided I’d do a book and got started on it the minute I got back to Texas,” West said. “It took me about four weeks to complete.”
He also created the Southern Indiana Round Barn Trail.
“Once I had finished photographing the 20 and decided to do the book, I realized if I had so much fun doing this, there has to be others that would enjoy the travel and hunt, so I created the trail,” he said. “I began and ended it in Seymour, my hometown.”
His self-published book, “Standing Twenty: Southern Indiana’s Remaining True-Circular Round Barns,” was released Nov. 5. The 60-page, hardcover book includes 20 barn pictures and accessory photos of cornfields, farmers and other iconic Indiana images.
“I really just wanted to honor my dad, who was a builder, and share something unique with others,” West said of his book. “I figured if I spent my first 20 years of my life in Indiana and didn’t know about the history of Indiana’s place in round barns, then there was probably a lot of other people that didn’t know it either.”
West said he developed an interest in photography at a young age when he did a 4-H photography project for the Jackson County Fair. Later, as a student at Seymour High School, he was a photographer for the newspaper and yearbook staffs. He was the newspaper’s editor his senior year.
“Those were the days of processing film in a darkroom,” he said. “I loved the whole process from taking the photos to processing to editing and printing.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, he went to Ball State University. He initially considered studying acting but landed in photojournalism. But during his first year, he switched to business and wound up earning a marketing degree in 1992.
Following graduation, he was hired by Shell Oil Co. He worked in Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis in his first two years with the company before being transferred to its headquarters in Houston.
Through the years, he worked for public companies and private startups. But most of his professional career has been in the energy industry marketing electricity, natural gas, solar and other home energy products.
He currently is the principal adviser and founder of his own consulting company, Oeste Energy.
“I enjoy consulting because I’m able to work with a lot of different companies on their unique marketing challenges without having to get involved in the day-to-day details,” he said. “That part of corporate life can be tedious. I don’t miss those days.”
In his spare time, West is a semiprofessional filmmaker, photographer and writer and has earned several awards for his work in those fields.
“In 2008, I got interested in writing and filmmaking under my own name,” he said. “When you work for corporate America, everything you do is owned by the company. I wanted to have my name on something, a legacy if you will, so I took a screenwriting class in Houston. I caught the bug and have since written three full-length films. I have made a short film and a feature documentary.”
West has published his second book and expects to announce that sometime this month. The book about Cuba contains 56 images he captured the day the U.S. embassy reopened in July 2015. One of his daughters, Sophia, wrote the foreword for the book.
He also has been selected as a feature photographer for FOTOFEST 2016, which is an internationally known photography show that lasts for six weeks every two years in Houston.
West said he still has a lot of family in Seymour and tries to visit twice a year. He hopes his story inspires others to pursue their passion and use their creativity.
“I would say my advice falls somewhere between ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘get a job,’” he said. “I knew a pure creative pursuit was risky. Most creatives don’t make it. I had a professional career that afforded me a lifestyle that allowed me to be creative in my second phase of life. I like to say that I’m a well-fed starving artist.”
Seymour native Kevin Douglas West recently released his first self-published book, “Standing Twenty: Southern Indiana’s Remaining True-Circular Round Barns.”
It’s available online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
To see his photography collection, visit kevindouglaswest.com.
Name: Kevin Douglas West
Residence: Katy, Texas
Education: Seymour High School (1988); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1992); University of Texas El Paso (master’s degree in business administration, 2005); Rice University Jones School of Business (energy management certificate, 2008)
Occupation: Principal adviser and founder of his own consulting company, Oeste Energy
Family: Wife, Michele M. West; daughters, Lily West and Sophia West
“The best part about it is hunting the barns. They are all on back rural roads and take time and patience to get to. Sometimes, it took me over an hour to find one. But the feeling of turning a corner down a farm road and seeing a round barn ahead of you filled me with adrenaline.”
Seymour native Kevin Douglas West, on searching for round barns to photograph for his book