Away from the city, a couple hours’ bus drive along the Hudson, was one of the most coveted summer getaways – The Granit Hotel and Country Club in Kerhonkson, N.Y., where vacationers would come to kick back and relax as recently as the 1980s (but even more so during its heyday in the ’50s and ’60s.)
For many – mostly wealthy, elderly, white singles from Florida – this hotel in the popular hills of the Catskills was a summer haven where they could recover from the scorching sun of the South. A wide range of activities was available and mingling was encouraged while dancing by the pool, exercising in the park, even participating in costume contests.
Thankfully, the sharp, irreverent yet ever genuine eye of New York photographer Arlene Gottfried was there as well – on the edge of the pool, on the dance floor of the lounge – to quietly capture the frivolous extravaganza that lives in these never-seen-before photographs.
“It’s really a document of an era,"Gottfried tells TIME. "It was a part of society and the culture that is over. So I am glad to have been there when I was.”
One of the Granit’s part owners, a dear friend of Gottfried, had invited the Brooklyn-born photographer to come visit. “I knew about the Catskills resorts, but I never really participated, so I found myself in the middle of it when I went up there the first time. I saw the people that were there and the kind of place it was,” says the photographer, recalling an atmosphere that was a bit unusual but at the same time very natural. “I was interested and I started photographing right away. And then I kept going back.”
Gottfried returned summer after summer, each time for a few days, lodging at her friend’s resort and strolling around with her Nikon camera, capturing whatever struck her.
Feeling at ease in that crowd was immediate. “It was an intimate sort of atmosphere. Nobody really resisted being photographed," she says. "They were very good-spirited about it, good-natured."
As the patrons swung by the pool or chatted at cocktail parties giving flirtatious looks, Gottfried captured what unfolded before her, with a unique mixture of humor, playful curiosity and respect that have always made her work stand out.
“I try not to judge and I try not to be condescending, because they were just being natural human beings, enjoying themselves," she says. "I just try to photograph what I see.”
And yet, it is impossible to gaze at Gottfried’s photographs without being astounded by the humanity she manages to portray. With wry humor and natural affection, Gottfried highlights the intimate essence of whomever she captures.
Two of Gottfried’s photographs from the series Granit Hotel and Country Club, Kerhonkson, New York, will be displayed as part of a larger exhibition that opens this fall at the Harditta Gallery in Cologne, Germany. One depicts the guests exercising under a big tree; the other is a close-up of a couple dancing, the woman's hands resting on her partner’s tanned shoulders. As Gottfried lingers at these photographs, she admits to get a little sentimental: “A lot of the years pass by and things have become different now. So when I look at them, I think of going there by bus and having a good time, seeing friends and taking pictures. What more could I ask for?”
Arlene Gottfried is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her latest project, Mommie, is a touching photographic portrait of three generations of women in her family: her 100-year-old immigrant grandmother, fragile mother, and reluctant sister over the course of 35 years. Slated to be released in December, Gottfried has started a campaign to help finance her book, the fourth from powerHouse Books.
Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is the deputy director of photography and visual enterprise at TIME.