A Look at Love’s Not-So-Secret Ingredient

Mr. Hamburg, who took up photography in his retirement after 50 years in communications law, has made his hobby somewhat of a second career, with several exhibitions also to his credit
Eric Fischl and April Gornik are one of several East End couples featured in Morton Hamburg’s new book, “Commitment.” Morton Hamburg

   Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that there is only one real secret to its success and that’s commitment. Mort Hamburg knows it too, and he has used the theme to anchor a new photo book profiling couples, famous and not, who have built long and flourishing lives together. And this is not his first rodeo.
    In 2000, he brought together a number of married couples in a photo book called “Couples: A Celebration of Commitment.” This year, he has gone outside matrimony to find long-term couples that may or may not be legally wed to help examine and demonstrate what makes their relationships tick. He is aided in this by Kashmir Hill, who interviewed each of the couples that Mr. Hamburg photographed.
    “I chose the title ‘Commitment,’ this time, because that’s what it’s all about,” he said recently. “To do something and do it well, no matter what it is, requires commitment.”
    Mr. Hamburg, who took up photography in his retirement after 50 years in communications law, has made his hobby somewhat of a second career, with several exhibitions also to his credit. “I’m proud of the book,” he said. “I just turned 82 a couple of weeks ago and for me to have a book out and it selling out of its first printing is a real mark of success for me.”
    He chose the couples from people he and his wife, Joan Hamburg, a long-time radio personality, know from New York or the South Fork and through the recommendations of close friends. He said it helped that Ms. Hamburg had interviewed many of them over the years on her radio show.
    There are pictures and write-ups of 37 couples. Joy Behar and Steve Janowitz, who are South Fork part-timers, reveal that they dated for two decades before moving in together after Sept. 11, 2001. Although they remained unmarried for several years, they finally took the plunge in August 2011. There are a number of other East End couples in the book, including April Gornik and Eric Fischl.
    Another long-term couple that waited years to marry is Judy Collins and Louis Nelson, who lived together for 18 years before their wedding. “We were very happy and committed to each other and involved in each other’s lives. We didn’t feel any urgency,” Ms. Collins said in her interview.
    One unmarried couple, Tom Cianfichi and Bryan Batt, who might be recognizable to some from his days on the cable series “Mad Men,” decided to wait until gay marriage is recognized in Louisiana, to consider whether or not to wed. They have a house in the Garden District of New Orleans.
    In the case of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, their children brought them together. Mr. Hamburg’s son, John Hamburg, has written for Ben Stiller — the films “Meet the Parents,” “Meet the Fockers,” and “Zoolander” — “but he has since branched off on his own, Mr. Hamburg said.
    Some proceeds from the book will go to the International Rescue Committee, an organization that responds to humanitarian crises. Mr. Hamburg has been involved with the committee for several decades.
    Although he and his wife live in a house on Sagg Pond in Sagaponack, he said a photo book on the South Fork was never something he considered. “Everyone and his brother has a photo book about the Hamptons. I like to keep my life in Sagaponack private,” particularly with all of the attention the village’s high-profile residents and dramatic beach erosion have received in recent years. The couple have not been immune to natural disasters either. Their first floor was partially destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and they are in the process of rebuilding, hoping to have it back to a pre-storm state by May.
    When he began photography, he did a few landscapes, but realized what he really enjoyed was photographing people. “I’m good with people.” For his own enjoyment he will take pictures around the house, of his granddaughter, and of the family dog. Taking good pictures of the latter is the most challenging, he said with a laugh, “but I keep working on it.”
    He did not have a theory or great secret on why some couples stay together, but he had a piece of advice that someone once offered him. “When you have an argument with someone you love, remember to say these words: ‘You may be right.’ That really works.”