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Hamptons Life

Jul 25, 2011 10:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Trip Down Further Lane

Jul 25, 2011 1:57 PM

Adjacent to the Amagansett dunes, along a fringe of trees, there once sat 13 historic buildings—a swath of handmade cedar shakes dating back to the 18th century.

Far from architectural masterpieces, they were home to Adelaide de Menil and her late husband, anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, until 2007 when they sold the 40-acre property on Further Lane to financier Ron Baron for $103 million.

Enter photographer Zak Powers. Ms. de Menil commissioned the Manhattanite to document her grounds before her big move, as well as the buildings’s migration. The art collector was donating seven of the structures to East Hampton for the municipality’s new Town Hall, adamant that they not be razed by the land’s new owner.

Intrigued by Ms. de Menil’s project, Mr. Powers visited the site more than 100 times over 18 months, starting in the summer of 2006. He photographed the deconstruction, the lifting, the physical move and the finished product, not anticipating that he would publish his collection as a 16-inch-by-13-inch book, “Further Lane,” which will hit the shelves in early September.

“It needed to be a big book,” Mr. Powers said last week during an interview at a friend’s house in Amagansett. “It’s a big landscape. It’s a big neighborhood where people like big houses, big cars, big property, big ocean. This is not a humble part of the universe we’re talking about here. And I have an ego, too. I wanted a big book.”

But between Mr. Powers’s initial photographs and actual publication was a near five-year gap. What unfolded in the downtime was financial mismanagement under former Supervisor Bill McGintee that nearly bankrupted the town and would forever label the new Town Hall—and Ms. de Menil’s gift—as the totem for what went wrong, Mr. Powers said.

“‘Further Lane’ is an extraordinarily beautiful record of a wonderful event: the preservation and adaptation of increasingly rare examples of the South Fork’s architecture,” Quantuck Lane Press publisher Jim Mairs said in an email last week. “It is a story with a happy ending at a time when not everything goes as planned.”

The buildings’s stories began centuries ago, but they embarked on new chapters in the

mid-1970s, when Ms. de Menil moved her collection—which includes the Peach Farm Wing, The Lewis Thomas Shed, The Parsons, the Bridgehampton and Baker barns, and the Hedges and Hand houses, to name a few—to Amagansett.

“She wanted to collect up all the firsts and then made a living museum on her property,” Mr. Powers explained. “Paintings are too small for some of these people. A $2 million painting is just too easy. So now it’s, ‘I’ll take the house.’ It’s a bigger, ballsier thing to collect. It’s not some small, little, precious thing that anybody could have delivered in a cardboard box.”

Mr. Powers and his wife, Robyn, made it a point to stay in a different house each time they’d visit the grounds for a photo shoot. Some nights, Mr. Powers would even sleep in the dunes, he said, roasting a hot dog over a fire while enjoying a beer or two.

“I’d sleep in the buildings up on their blocks, too. I stretched that part of my project as long as I could,” the 38-year-old photographer said with a boyish laugh. “I like creaky old buildings. Cedar shakes, we call these. It was like looking at where I came from: British Columbia. They were familiar to me, in that sense. A little wobbly. They’re not perfect.”

Mr. Powers didn’t pick up his first camera until 1999, when he went on a two-year-long photo adventure with his wife. He packed a camera, one lens and 10 rolls of film. Their travels took them from Seattle to Alaska in a kayak, from Mexico to Panama in an old car, which they sold, and then hitchhiked around South America, he said.

His photo-taking was minimal. He still had film left over when they returned to the United States.

“The trip gave me a reason to really study where I was and to look around and think,” he said. “It was fun. It was a very nice way to travel, to be eyeballing my surroundings and then freezing a bit of it to take home with me to cherish.”

He practiced the same philosophy when he began the Further Lane project, which was extremely slow-going, he said. It seemed that nothing of significance would happen for weeks, he recalled. Much of the move was conducted in silence, as none of the three workers spoke a common language. Some days, Mr. Powers would take only one or two photos, he said. Others, he’d blow through two or three rolls of film.

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