Claire Flanders, 66, a photographer whose mystical and mesmerizing black-and-white visions of cathedrals, palaces and natural environments earned her critical praise, died March 8 at her home in Washington. She had cancer.
Mrs. Flanders's work was shown at what is now the Troyer Gallery in Northwest Washington. Many of her pieces were displayed at galleries on Cape Cod, Mass., where she spent summers, and in a museum in Chartres, France, near where she grew up.
She turned to photography as a way of sending visual greetings to her relatives in Europe. She became a commercial artist, photographing weddings and families throughout the region and printing them in the darkroom in her home.
As she turned more to the fine arts, she emphasized simple equipment and intense deliberation of her subject. She advised younger people to spend their time looking at beautiful photos and paintings instead of books that were too technical.
Her first photographic show, "My Mother's Garden" (1991), depicted the small home where she was raised, in the French village of Leves.
A turning point came after the photographs appeared in Leves's town hall. The mayor, son of famed French interior designer Madeleine Castaing, invited her to shoot the estate of his reclusive, eccentric and ailing mother.
Mrs. Flanders called the property "a photographer's paradise." Left virtually untouched for 50 years, the home resembled a more genteel version of Miss Havisham's estate from "Great Expectations," with its proliferation of ivy, cobwebs and shadows.
"I was alone, I was given a key, I was followed by a very ancient German shepherd," she told National Public Radio host Diane Rehm. "Other than that, it was just letting that place come to me."
She called the Castaing show "A Gate Unlocked" (1995), and some of the photographs appeared in Architectural Digest and World of Interiors magazines.
Her late-1990s exhibits included: "Worlds Apart: Portugal-Cape Cod," which contrasted a 15th-century Portuguese palace with painter Edward Hopper's functional summer cottage on Cape Cod; "In Finity," which showed Mont-Saint-Michel with its medieval abbey and the Chartres Cathedral in France; and "Rivers and Reflections," a look at four rivers, the Potomac, the Pamet on Cape Cod, the Nile and the Eure in France.
Ferdinand Protzman wrote in The Washington Post that Mrs. Flanders found a fresh way of photographing the familiar. "Mont-Saint-Michel and the cathedral at Chartres, for example, have been photographed ad nauseam," Protzman wrote. "But Flanders makes them seem lively and unexplored."
Claire Altenburger was born in Brussels and moved with her family to Leves, about an hour's drive southwest of Paris, as the Nazis advanced. She studied music and drama at the Versailles conservatory, married an American and settled in the Washington area in 1959.
She began photographing her new homeland, which she said had seemed so distant and mysterious during her childhood.
"For us, America was still very much where all these soldiers who freed us came from," she told Rehm.
In December, Mrs. Flanders self-published a book of photographs from her exhibits.
Survivors include her husband of 47 years, William Flanders of Washington; four children, Sonia McArdle of New Canaan, Conn., Will Flanders of Santa Fe, N.M., and John Flanders and Lili Flanders Cook, both of Los Angeles; one brother; three sisters; and eight grandchildren.