The Chelsea Hotel has been home to cultural icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As controversial redevelopments continue, Colin Miller photographs the inns last remaining accommodations and their residents
In 2015, an structure 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 looked down the iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former splendor. Bits of the tenants’ artwork decorated the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signeds of a vibrant community of residents who attended deeply for their residence. I had only a ambiguous gumption 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 clevernes emanated from the hotel. Former tenants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and kill her Sex notebook there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two ballads about the liaison “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had understood, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining tenants before the historical divisions 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 penetrating his apartment was like crossing into another dimension. In his living room, lit by dozens of candles, my spouse and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives in the inn. His bedroom was decorated 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 musics of traffic suddenly returned and we experienced ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and strong alteration in my perception of the hotel 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 accumulation of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across era, an accumulation of the marks so many have obliged on it. At least until now.