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Kathryn Abbe, 94, freelance photographer from Brookville, dies

Photographer Kathryn Abbe, of Brookville, holds her favorite

Photographer Kathryn Abbe, of Brookville, holds her favorite camera Hasselblad for a portrait at her house on June 27, 2005. Abbe, a well-known freelance photographer and author, died on Jan. 18, 2014 due to complications from a stroke. She was 94. Newsday's obituary for Kathryn Abbe
Credit: Newsday / June Lee

Kathryn Abbe knew she wanted to take pictures after she enrolled in a photography class during her second year at Pratt Institute in Manhattan.

"I walked into the studio and that was it," she said in a biography written by her photography assistant, Chris Karitevlis.

When she started working as a professional freelance photographer in 1944, there were few women in the field.

"She was a pioneer in women having careers," her son, Thomas Abbe of Brookville, said.

"In an era of indoor studio photography, Kathryn's assignments were usually on location outdoors -- a spontaneous and innovative departure from the norm," Karitevlis wrote in the biography.

Abbe, a well-known freelance photographer and author, died in her home in Brookville on Jan. 18 of complications from a stroke. She was 94.

Born Kathryn McLaughlin in Brooklyn, Abbe shared her passion for photography with her identical twin sister, Frances, of New York City.

Their mutual love affair with the lens began after they received a Voigtlander camera as a gift when they graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Wallingford, Conn. in the late 1930s. They both studied painting at Pratt and earned bachelor of fine arts degrees in 1941.

That year, the sisters both were finalists in Vogue magazine's Prix de Paris photo contest. After working as a fashion photographer for Vogue and Charm magazine for a few years, Abbe began her career as a professional freelancer.

In 1946, she married James Abbe Jr., a photographer she had met at one of the magazines. As a gift for their Las Vegas wedding, she gave him a plane, which they both learned to fly to their summer home in Montauk. In 1950, the Abbes moved from Manhattan to Brookville with their three children -- Lucinda, Thomas and Eli.

Abbe gave up professional assignments but continued to shoot in her spare time, mainly using her children as subjects. Her photos were bought by magazines such as Parents, Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens.

The couple joined the Religious Society of Friends in Brookville and raised their children as Quakers.

She was very involved in the Quaker community, Thomas Abbe said.

For more than 20 years, Kathryn Abbe also held the position of clerk of the Quakers' Jericho Monthly Meeting and was a member of the board of trustees of Friends Academy in Locust Valley.

Her photographs are displayed in the Akron Art Museum in Ohio as well as the Brooklyn Museum, Guild Hall Museum, the International Center of Photography and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A 70-year retrospective of Abbe's Long Island photography is displayed in the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities in Cold Spring Harbor. She also co-authored, "Stars of the Twenties Observed by James Abbe," co-authored with her twin sister, "Twins on Twins" and produced "Twin Lives in Photography."

A lecturer, she appeared on several television programs, including "The Dick Cavett Show." A documentary about the twin sisters, "Twin Lenses," was featured at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2008.

"It's hard to sum up who she was in a few words," Thomas Abbe said.

"In all, she lived a very successful life, she did what she wanted to do and managed a very full life."

Abbe's husband died in 1999. In addition to her sister, Frances, and son Thomas, she is survived by her daughter, Lucinda, of Jackson, Wyo.; and her son, Eli, of Palo Alto, Calif.; a stepson, James Abbe III of New York City; a niece; and five grandchildren.

Kathryn Abbe was cremated and her remains were interred at the Westbury Friends Cemetery.

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