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Capturing the Allure of the Hamptons

Tue, 05/14/2024 - 12:03
Susan Kaufman took a rare break from being behind the camera while on a visit to Amber Waves market in Amagansett.
Mark Segal

Susan Kaufman first came to East Hampton when she was 8 years old. Her aunt and uncle had a “beautiful but very modest cottage” near Main Beach, “so the neighborhood was full of big summer shingled cottages that always for me were the most amazing and romantic homes.”

One can be forgiven for believing in destiny, given that her second book, “Walk With Me: Hamptons,” just published by Abrams Image, features more than 200 of her color photographs of, yes, amazing and romantic homes, but also flowers, barns, storefronts, windmills, even a few surfboards, taken over the past five years between Southampton and Montauk.

Like her first book, “Walk With Me: New York,” this one is not only full of arresting photographs, it is practical. Each section is devoted to a village or hamlet and includes easy to read walking maps and driving routes. Moreover, at 9 by 7 inches, it is sized more like a guide book than a coffee table tome.

Ms. Kaufman’s father was a breast cancer oncologist; her mother, a pediatrician, still maintains am office in Montefiore Medical Center at 96.. “So you can see why I got into fashion and photography,” she said with a laugh. Indeed, between those childhood visits here and the publication of her two books, Ms. Kaufman enjoyed a successful career in magazine publishing, much of it orbiting around fashion.

 

A tiny, shingled shed hidden behind roses and hydrangeas on Newtown Lane in East Hampton caught Susan Kaufman’s eye. Susan Kaufman Photo

After growing up in New Rochelle, she enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in art history and Italian, spending her junior year in Italy, and returning there a year after graduating for another year. Back in New York, she heard about an opening at Mademoiselle magazine. “It was one of my favorite magazines, and it combined everything I loved, which was travel and photography and fashion.”

While there, she styled shoots, traveled widely, and worked with such eminent fashion photographers as Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel, and Peter Lindbergh. Eventually, while still attending to her other duties, Ms. Kaufman bought a camera and began taking her own fashion and beauty photos, many of which ran in the magazine.

“For me, taking pictures and editing them and telling a story with the photos was really satisfying,” she said during a conversation inside Amagansett’s Amber Waves market. “I loved fashion, but more than that, I just loved the whole putting-together of the story.”

Her move up the magazine ladder took her to Glamour magazine for 11 years, and Us Weekly, a celebrity and entertainment magazine based in the city. “I oversaw all their fashion and beauty pages, pop culture, and the writing, which was another challenge for me because I really came from the visual side.”

She had been back at Mademoiselle as its fashion director for just two months when 9/11 happened, and the long-running monthly folded soon after. She called it “a blessing in disguise,” because it led to eight rewarding years at a People magazine spinoff named StyleWatch, which turned into a stand-alone publication.

“I became editor in chief of People StyleWatch, which took off like a rocket in the middle of the recession of 2008, which was kind of crazy. Until it peaked when magazines started imploding.”

Ms. Kaufman was still at StyleWatch when the confluence of three 21st-century phenomena — the iPhone, the Fitbit, and Instagram — sent her in a brand-new direction. “When Twitter started, I thought, I don’t get this, it’s not my thing. But when Instagram started, because it was visual, that was something I could sort of wrap my head around.”

She began on Instagram, well before the idea for the first book occurred, by posting pictures of fashion shows, “but when I started walking, I had the camera on hand all the time because of the iPhone. I live in the middle of Greenwich Village, in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in New York” — one that is full of low-rise houses with eye-catching front doors, and doors, as it happens, are among Ms. Kaufman’s favorite subjects. She was walking more and more, and before long she launched #dooroftheday on her Instagram page. People responded positively.

“But it wasn’t until I left work in 2015 that I really started treating Instagram like a mini-magazine. It’s an instant focus group — you put something out there and you see how people respond to it. Plus, I just loved taking pictures and editing the home page. I look at the home page as almost like the cover of a magazine. If they find you, they have a split second to look at it and decide if they want to follow you or not.”

By 2019, Ms. Kaufman had thousands of Instagram followers. “I wish I could walk with you,” they’d comment, or “I’m coming to New York, where should I go?” She began to think about doing a book.

“Coming from magazines, you have something to show for your work. Being on Instagram, you really have no control over it, it could go away in a split second. And if it did, while it was nice, what do I have?” With a book, she thought, “At least I could have something substantial, something real.”

She came up with the title first, and then looked at other books about the city, deciding which worked and which didn’t. She wanted “Walk With Me” to be easy to page through, simple and clear, with captions on each page to identify the image, and with walking maps. Together with a graphic designer she’d worked with at People, they developed a proposal. As it neared submission, Kristin van Ogtrop, a literary agent at InkWell Management who’d been following Ms. Kaufman on Instagram, asked if she’d thought of doing a book.

“I said, ‘Funny you should say that.’ “ She sent the proposal to the agent, and they received an offer from Abrams. The book was published in 2022.

“I think we’re all shocked by how well it did.” Ms. Kaufman said. “I thought, if I see 3,000 to 5,000 copies I’ll be happy — and we’re in our ninth printing! The first printing was 10,000, that’s normal, and it sold out in three weeks.”

The writer Delia Ephron called the book “an absolutely enchanting guide. Even after living in New York City for years, I found new places to go and saw familiar things in magical ways. Susan Kaufman’s eye and taste are exquisite.”

Ms. Kaufman and her husband, Shawn Young, a former art director at Allure and Vanity Fair, bought their house in Amagansett in January 1997. While she was working she spent only weekends here, but since 2015 the couple has divided their time pretty equally between Greenwich Village and the South Fork. So “Walk With Me: Hamptons” was a logical follow-up.

Ms. Kaufman will sign books at Sylvester & Co. Modern General in Sag Harbor on May 26, at Barnes and Noble in Bridgehampton on June 8, and at the East Hampton BookHampton on June 15. She will also be at the East Hampton Library’s Authors Night in August, as she was with “Walk With Me: New York” in 2022.

This article has been changed from its original and print versions to correct several factual errors.

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