Zak Powers flips through his photo book, "Further Lane," with his three-year-old daughter, Lyla, in Amagansett last week. MICHELLE TRAURING
Further Lane buildings line up, ready to be moved to East Hampton. ZAK POWERS
East Hampton Town Hall construction. ZAK POWERS
Adelaide de Menil watches as her home is pulled off its foundation on Further Lane. ZAK POWERS
View from Further Lane. ZAK POWERS
Edmund Carpenter gazes at his home on Further Lane. ZAK POWERS
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.
By the end of the shoot, his taste had changed, he said. For every 10 black-and-white rolls, he’d use a color roll, he said. By the end, he was shooting half in color.
“Life isn’t black and white. It’s color,” he said. “We live in color. But I think it’s fantastic that black and white came first because, well, it wouldn’t have come second, and it takes us out of our daily lives. It takes us out of the reality and lets us see a little bit of the poetry. You have to use your imagination. It allows me to participate in a photograph more, but then eventually, you want to stick with reality, too.”
Toward the end of the project, Mr. Powers said he began shooting images with a digital camera, and hasn’t gone back to film since.
“It doesn’t cost me anything, I can shoot like crazy, and I never miss anything,” he said of using a digital camera. “But it’s a different style. I’m thinking about it in a different way, maybe more with my gut than with my head. It’s more of a dance than a stalk.”
Before Town Hall was even complete, Mr. Powers began laying out the pages of his book with the help of designer Stuart Smith. The duo narrowed down the pool of 2,000 images to 500, then photocopied them and laid them out on the floor of a studio in Manhattan. They paced up and down them for a week, moving the pictures around and making cuts.
“I was getting giddy, running up and down the rows yelling, ‘Out and out and out!’” Mr. Powers said, throwing his hands in the air. “At one point, I remember Stuart was like, ‘Wait, wait wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out. Slow down. Do not throw everything away, you’re getting a little enthusiastic. We’re going to keep some of these.’”
The men whittled the photocopies down to about 100 pictures, Mr. Powers said, and 86 made it into the book. The full-page landscape spreads capture the subdued and mellow nature of the property, he said. The aerials shot from a helicopter during the move to Town Hall have a 1960s, horror-movie feel about them, he said. But his favorite he achieved by climbing to the peak of a tall dirt pile and looking down at a house on wheels while Mr. Carpenter walked into the foreground, leaving his wife standing by the building on its rig in an open field.
“I’ve taken so many bad pictures that when I take a good one, it doesn’t seem like it comes from me,” Mr. Powers said. “It’s like a miracle. That’s the thing about photography. With a painting, you have to really know where you want things, you are the master. With a photograph, the world’s doing its thing and you have some control, but mostly, it just happens for me. And all I have to do is click enough times and I get it. This was one of those times where I got the negative and I was like, ‘Wow. Fantastic.’”
Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote the introduction to the book. He had known about the buildings for a long time, as he lives right down the road from their old home, he said during a telephone interview last week. But it was the ability of Mr. Powers’s photographs to stand alone that made him want to be a part of this project, Mr. Goldberger reported.
“What [Town Hall] represents is a very elegant and thoughtful balance between new and old,” Mr. Goldberger said. “There’s something quite wonderful about the idea of debating the future of the town in a reused, old building that’s one of its earliest structures. To talk about the 21st-century future in a 17th-century building preserved for that purpose will help people understand the huge arc of time that building represents. And also help everyone remember East Hampton wasn’t established when a few rich people from New York wanted summer houses. It has a much deeper, longer history.”
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