The Chelsea Hotel has been residence to culture icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As contentious renovations continue, Colin Miller images the hotels last-place remaining suites and their residents
In 2015, an architecture conglomerate approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The pictures I took were forgettable, but when I searched down the cast-iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former glorification. Fragments of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible mansions of a vibrant community of local residents who cared profoundly for their residence. I has there a ambiguous sense of the Chelsea then, mainly through the cinema Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.
An aura of popularity and invention started from the hotel. Former occupants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and shot her Sex work there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two chants about the occasion “hes having” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had received, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining residents before the historical gangs were farther sterilised. The Chelsea’s demise was imminent; I had a precious few months before it would all disappear.
I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and penetrating his apartment was like crossing into another facet. In his living room, lit by dozens of candles, my wife and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives in the inn. His bedroom was covered in deep reds and ochres and embellished as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the hotel on to 23 rd Street the reverberates of traffic abruptly returned and we saw ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and strong switch in my taste of the inn and I began to form a deeper understanding of the worlds beings carved out there: his apartment was not only an extension of his personality, but a collection of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across duration, an accumulation of the marks so many have obliged on it. At least until now.