Photographer William Abranowicz’s acclaimed portfolio has taken him around the world, and his work can be found in nearly every major lifestyle, culture, and fashion publication. But his subjects for Country Life: Homes of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley—publishing this summer by Vendome—were no further than a few hours’ drive from his own Catskills home.
Country Life captures the essence of dwellings along a corridor that Abranowicz calls a “ribbon of creativity,” from the Delaware River Valley to the Berkshires. “With this book, I could drive to areas I’d never been to before,” he says. This is his third book under the Vendome brand, and his third collaboration with his son Zander, who provided the words that harmonize with his father’s images.
Abranowicz “paints” those images with his lens; it’s apropos, then, that inspiration for this ode to the Hudson Valley and Catskills came from the Hudson River School painters. The book features both Frederic Church’s Olana in Hudson and its neighbor across the river, the Thomas Cole House in Catskill. It was there that Abranowicz began.
Publisher Mark Magowan pitched the idea at the tail end of the COVID pandemic, about the same time that Abranowicz and his wife, editor Andrea Raisfeld, had just moved full-time from Bedford to their weekend home in the Delaware County village of Margaretville. “I originally wanted to cover just the Catskills, but he suggested I do the Hudson Valley, too,” Abranowicz says. “I had no outline, just a regional boundary; in this case, the regional boundary was home.”
Spirit of the House
He spent a year and a half photographing 30 homes. Twenty made the final cut—each one encapsulating the finery of its surroundings. Abranowicz’s artistic images transcend the usual home decor book, and he asserts as much in discussing the book: “I’m less interested in design than the spirit of the house. Design is always important—that’s why these houses were chosen—but it was their spirit I hoped to capture.”
As a result, the Olana chapter opens with the curve of a mountain and a slice of river, as seen from the iconic home. Images of Geoff Howell’s 1866 Italianate in Athens include the rainbow sparkles that splash throughout a room, reflected from Swarovski crystal that Howell has carefully placed in the windows. Harsh edges at the Brutalist concrete home of Hal Philipps and Greg Kendall are forgiven with shots of the breathtaking Catskills views seen from their living room.
Abranowicz was acquainted with some owners of the homes featured in the book, while others were introduced to him through those acquaintances and others. Each home enthralled him, and that enthusiasm comes through in his photos: “I’m constantly looking for things that communicate silently to me. It’s all about discovery: It happens over a few days sometimes, and in some cases, it’s instantaneous. You would have to be blind to walk into [Mita and Gerald] Bland’s house and not be, like, ‘Bam!’”
“There’s not one house I wouldn’t want to live in,” he adds. “The homes all shared some sense of awe—either in the landscape, the home design, or the overall vibe of the place.”
That feeling reveals itself throughout the book. From the moodiness of rich, dark, nautical wallpapers in Jessica Piazza and Tim Unich’s Saugerties home, to the woodsy openness of the McLawhorn/Kissock home on the banks of the Beaverkill, each home is gorgeously captured. Also included is the Beacon studio of artists Doug and Mike Starn, whose 2010 installation, Big Bambú :You Can’t, You Don’t and You Won’t Stop, in the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, caused a sensation.
Warmth Between the Walls
Abranowicz visited some in the leafiness of spring, while others were photographed while swathed in snow; the light shifts among the homes, as well. “I’m presenting a moment in a place that’ll change throughout the day,” Abranowicz explains.
When a photographer is tuned in to his subject, words can become secondary. But that’s not entirely the case here: Zander Abranowicz translates his father’s work with an eloquence that matches word with art. The first line of the chapter describing antiques dealer Ron Sharkey’s home: “I met Maple Lawn in the rain.” The chapter concludes: “I was, therefore, merely one of many moths drawn to Maple Lawn’s lantern, seeking the warmth between its walls in a dark season.”
Each home has its own chapter, introduced with Zander’s words and followed by William’s sumptuous visuals. After a year and a half trekking through such fabulous places, Abranowicz says he’d be hard-pressed to favor just one house: “I do have favorite photographs in each of the chapters. The opener of each story expresses the heart of what’s to come.”
Threading throughout, however, is that sense of natural surroundings—and it influences Abranowicz now as much as it did Church and Cole over a century ago. “I learned how important upstate nature is, and how we must work to preserve it,” the photographer emphasizes. “Nature is fleeting, and it’s not going to tolerate us much longer.”