The Chelsea Hotel has been home to cultural icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As controversial redevelopments continue, Colin Miller pictures the hotels last-place remaining apartments and their residents
In 2015, an building firm approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The photos I took were forgettable, but when I appeared down the cast-iron staircase I saw something of the hotel’s former glorification. Portions of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signals of a vibrant community of residents who cared profoundly for their residence. I has there a vague gumption of the Chelsea then, primarily through the cinema Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.
An aura of fame and originality originated from the inn. Former occupants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and fire her Sex journal there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two hymns about the thing he had there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had witnessed, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining occupants before the historical components were further sterilised. The Chelsea’s demise was imminent; I had a treasured few months before it would all disappear.
I met resident Tony Notarberardino for the first time in 2015 and participating his apartment was like crossing into another dimension. In his living room, lit by dozens of candles, my bride and I were rapt as he told us about his life in the inn. His bedroom was painted in deep reds and ochres and decorated as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the hotel on to 23 rd Street the bangs of traffic suddenly returned and we acquired ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and strong switching in my taste of the inn and I began to form a deeper understanding of the worlds parties carved out there: his apartment was not only an extension of his personality, but a collecting of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across age, an accumulation of the marks so many have manufactured on it. At least until now.