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Pieter Estersohn
June 24, 2024

Pieter Estersohn’s new book lovingly captures the essence of the Hudson Valley

By Cynthia Hochswender

Photos by Pieter Estersohn

First there are the photos: The farms and fields along the Hudson River Valley have never looked more beautiful. 

Pieter Estersohn has had a decades-long career photographing for magazines including Architectural Digest, World of Interiors, Elle Decor, so certainly he has mad skills and experience. But a clinical eye, no matter how well trained, doesn’t add the glow of warmth that Estersohn brings to his new book, “Back to the Land.” He clearly adores his subject: the agrarian landscape of upstate New York, and the people who create that landscape.

A native New Yorker with multigenerational roots in the city, Estersohn grew up during the city’s glory days.

“I lived in New York during the apotheosis of cool,” he says. “I worked for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, I went to Studio 54 and The Mudd Club.”

But over time he became disillusioned with the city. Perhaps he’d also had his fill of wild nights. He has a son, and began to think that a country house might add balance to their life.

He set about his search with vigor, looking at more than 100 houses, in Louisiana, the Chesapeake Bay, Connecticut, and upstate New York. Eventually he saw a Greek Revival manor on 27 acres in Red Hook, and he knew he was home.

Staats Hall was built in 1839, and had fallen into disrepair. Estersohn and his son camped out in the house on weekends through the two-year renovation. And during that time, Estersohn did a deep dive into the world around him. He’d recently traveled to Greece, and become interested in classical architecture; the Greek Revival overtones of upstate naturally appealed to him. 

“And there’s a connection between classical architecture and an agricultural life,” he says.

He decided to do books about the Hudson River Valley, writing them as well as taking the photos, and sharing with readers what he loves about this part of the world. His first book featured the homes of the Livingston family, whose antecedents were early settlers here. 

For his newest book, he photographed and wrote about farmers in Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties. The subtitle of the book gives a sense of its breadth: “Foraging, syrup tapping, beer brewing, cannabis growing, orchard tending, vegetable gardening, cheesemaking, beekeeping, and ecological farming in the Hudson River Valley.”

Estersohn is a good listener and a wonderful writer. He tells deep, fascinating tales of his subjects’ triumphs and challenges. And though it’s a book about farming, these tales are really about finding a simpler life, based on love of the land and community.

“I feel like we’re in a dark time with a lot of anxiety and pessimism and fear,” Estersohn says. “But up here … The first time I went to Apple Blossom Day in Red Hook, with the parade, and the fire trucks, and the kids from the 4-H Club … there was something very poetic about that. It was touching and it moved me. I love it here. I’m happy here.”