Kentucky

James Archambeault, acclaimed photographer of Kentucky’s landscapes, has died

What is James Archambeault’s favorite photo?

Renowned Kentucky photographer James Archambeault is asked if he has a favorite photo from his decades photographing the Commonwealth.
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Renowned Kentucky photographer James Archambeault is asked if he has a favorite photo from his decades photographing the Commonwealth.

James Archambeault, the photographer who created some of the most beautiful and popular photos of his adopted home state, has died.

Archambeault turned 76 on Feb. 26; he died Monday in a hospice in South Carolina, where he also had a home, according to his wife, Lee Oliphant Archambeault.

“We had a small birthday celebration for him there. His sister and brother-in-law were with me in his last days,” she said.

Archambeault, who had a heart condition, fell ill on Jan. 30 and had been unconscious since Feb. 1, she said.

Married for almost 29 years, “we had so much fun. Our senses of humor clicked, and we giggled a lot. I’m keeping that in mind, and in my heart,” Lee Archambeault said Tuesday.

She said that a memorial will be held in Lexington later this year; arrangements are pending. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Bennett Chamberlin of Maryland; and his sons, Noah Oliphant of Birmingham, Ala., and Eli Kay-Oliphant of Chicago.

“He was their stepfather but raised them from the time they were 10 years old,” Lee Archambeault said.

James Archambeault was celebrated as a photographer of Kentucky as well as his beloved Pawleys Island in South Carolina.

“I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they passed something and thought of Jim because his vision had taught them how to see things differently,” Lee Archambeault said.

In an interview a year ago, James Archambeault said his gift as a photographer was patience: He scouted his shot and waited for the light. Some days he got nothing. Other days were full of photographic wonder.

“I didn’t make Kentucky,” Archambeault said in. “I simply went out and recorded what I found.”

Archambeault’s style was no-filter, all-film, cultivated on long periods of waiting, alone with his thoughts, for the right shot to come. Many of those shots made Kentucky seem like a place descended from the heavens, gently touched by mankind.

When Archambeault started shooting he could not afford a hotel. He slept in a camper on the back of his truck, making coffee on a propane hot plate and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

A native of Flint, Mich., Archambeault was a relative latecomer to photography.

As a young man, he considered becoming a priest, but wound up in the Peace Corps. He trained in Hawaii and worked in communications in the Philippines for regional development planning commissions.

He did some work for the Peace Corp in photography, “but I didn’t consider myself a photographer by any means.”

Returning to the United States at 26, he joined the Louisville office of the wire service United Press International. He later worked for the Child Advocacy Council, did development work in Bardstown and property management.

He got a call one day from an Oregon man who had a box of Kentucky prints and wanted to turn them into a book. Archambeault was hired for the job.

“That changed my life,” Archambeault said. “(But) I also realized that I had a lot to learn about photography.”

In 1982, he finished his first book, “Kentucky,” which established him with Kentucky photographers and book buyers.

Archambeault would later produce five more books including “Historic Kentucky,” which he also wrote, 35 Kentucky calendars and at least 22 Pawleys Island calendars.

Lee Archambeault said of her husband last year: “He has educated people to see better.”

Archambeault was modest: “I simply recorded what I found. People pick up a book and say, ‘there is my state.’ But I think it’s an accurate vision, too.”

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