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"Dark Clouds Over Olana" by Peter Aaron 

Parting Shot

There’s a piece of Persia in your Hudson Valley landscape. Frederic Church, the Hudson River School painter who designed Olana, adapted details from an 1860s venture through the Middle East into his idealized Hudson estate—the Iwan-style windows and doorways, repetition of images, and attention to symmetry are architectural mirrors of ancient Persia. The home is filled with the art of ancient civilizations. It was Church’s experience as a landscape artist, however, that was essential in deciding where to site his home on the 250-acre grounds. Olana is precisely positioned to possess foreground, middleground, and background like any landscape painting. The villa faces west from a bluff outside of the city of Hudson, looking out over the river to the Catskills and beyond, to the entrepreneurial West—an area not developed in Church’s time and representative of the future of America.

When photographing Church’s estate, Peter Aaron—not to be confused with Chronogram’s similarly named music editor—relies upon an infra-red setting to create varying gray saturations so the photograph appears similar to a negative—a style that is ideal, the architectural photographer says, for landscapes like Dark Clouds over Olana. The result is an image of a geometrically precise monolith, nearly swallowed by coarse trees and plush clouds. From his studies with renowned photographer Ezra Stoller, Aaron learned, “It is best to be mindful that a sequence of photos, a mixture of details, tells a story.” Though surreal, curious, and haunting, Aaron’s photographs of Olana remain at the core Hudson Valley landscapes told through small observations. Aaron is a 21st-century Church, capturing demanding architecture among the historic hovering hills and yawning fields of the Hudson Valley with modern techniques. And so Olana continues, after more than 150 years, as a piece that has not taken from the area’s landscape, but added enlightened history.

“Olana’s Dynamic Landscape: Photographs by Peter Aaron” is now on display at the Coachman’s House Gallery at Olana in Hudson through October 31. Olana.org; Portfolio: Peteraaron.net.

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  • Peter Aaron's photograph of Olana is this month's Parting Shot.

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