Catherine Fallin knows that people may look at the latest example of her life's work and say, "Hmm. Another coffee-table book."
But Ms. Fallin, who does production and text for the books she reluctantly describes, for lack of a better term, as "regional lifestyle books," says there's more to them than pretty pictures.
Documenting the way people live is a way of preserving the present for the future, she says. "This is history. It's how people are living today. It will never be like this again."
Ms. Fallin's latest book is "Chesapeake -- The Eastern Shore, Gardens and Homes" (Simon & Schuster, $45), produced with her late husband, photographer Taylor Lewis. Among the properties featured in its 278 pages are the 1810 Knightly property and the early-1800s Wye Heights, in Talbot County, the circa-1740 Phillips House in Worcester County, and the 1984 Outer Most House, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
There are people who collect boats and people who collect china, people who garden mostly with grasses and people with herb gardens and perennial borders. There are some common threads: animals everywhere, alive and figurative; sun rooms and river views; and a tendency to comfortable English country style that reflects the area's heritage. But the houses' styles range from pristine historic preservation to stark contemporary, and while many are large and lovely, some are simpler cottages or just sprawling family homes.
"We're not looking to just do mansions," Ms. Fallin said in a recent telephone interview from Cape Cod, where she is working on her next book. Ms. Fallin and Mr. Lewis, who died in June at the age of 62, collaborated on several pictorial-documentary books. "What we want to do is give a picture of what these places were really like. We're trying to capture the whole personality of the garden or the house."
When Mr. Taylor photographed Mount Vernon for an earlier book, she related, he sought to show it in all seasons, as George lTC Washington lived in it. The text of the book was taken from Washington's extensive writings about the house and grounds. That marriage of pictures and words is what makes history come alive, she said. But there are many places where such an intense record is simply not available, though it would be invaluable to historians if it were. "The world ought to be preserved," at least in print, Ms. Fallin said.
Previous collaborations by Ms. Fallin and Mr. Taylor include books on Nantucket (1990) and Martha's Vineyard (1992). Their book on Cape Cod is due to be published next year. "It's virtually a year to do one of these projects," she said.
For the Chesapeake book, the couple spent between three and four months of actual shooting time. But, Ms. Fallin said, "We probably spend as much time looking and meeting people as we do going in to photograph."
Finding properties to photograph is never a problem, Ms. Fallin said. "You know that old saying, you're always only five people away from someone you know." Sometimes it's a matter of talking to architects, designers and landscape designers in an area, seeking recommendations for their favorite projects. "Often know somebody in a place" who can make suggestions, Ms. Fallin said. "Or we know of a place, and we call and introduce ourselves."
Some finds are serendipitous. An allee of scarlet maples calls, "and you just know there's something wonderful down that lane," Ms. Fallin said.
Ms. Fallin said she does have some favorites among the Eastern Shore places they photographed, some places for their gardens, some for the objects inside. The Virginia home of Chester and Teresa deGavre, she said, has woodwork and furniture made by Mr. deGavre, a retired brigadier general, and family items from Mrs. deGavre's English background. "It's just rich with memories and feeling," Ms. Fallin said.
She also liked Chestertown. "Chestertown's a wonderful mix," she said. "Because it's a college town, it's got kids and retired people. And there are all those wonderful little fingers of land going out to the water."
Ms. Fallin, originally from Springfield, Mo., now lives in New York City. Mr. Lewis, who was born in Kansas City, Mo., was a photographer in the Navy and later made his home in Norfolk, where he sailed the Chesapeake Bay and photographed historic properties from "Williamsburg to Washington," Ms. Fallin said.
Mr. Taylor had completed most of the photographs and many of the layouts for the book on Cape Cod. The photography will be completed by his assistant, Greg Hadley.
It's likely, Ms. Fallin said, that she is not finished with the Chesapeake area. "I want to do the other side of the Chesapeake," she said, the Western Shore and the Potomac region. "We've got lots of other places we want to do," she said. Although so far the books have concentrated on country and village settings, she said, she might consider an urban location, especially if it is rich in history. "We are fascinated with Baltimore," she said.
Catherine Fallin will be in Maryland for two book signings for "Chesapeake -- The Eastern Shore." The first is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Borders Bookshop, 11500 Rockville Pike, Rockville, (301) 816-1067. The second is tentatively planned for Tuesday, July 13, at Greetings & Readings, 809 Taylor Ave., in Towson, (410) 825-4225.