The Chelsea Hotel has been home to cultural icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As contentious renovations continue, Colin Miller photographs the inns last remaining suites 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 ogled down the iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former beauty. Segments of the tenants’ artwork decorated the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible mansions of a vibrant community of local residents who cared deep for their home. I had only a ambiguous gumption of the Chelsea then, mainly through the film Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.
An aura of reputation and clevernes emanated from the inn. Former inhabitants 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 book there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two lyrics about the affair “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had interpreted, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining tenants before the historical parts were further 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 magnitude. In his living room, light by dozens of candles, my spouse and I were rapt as he told us about his life in the inn. His bedroom was painted in deep reds and ochres and embellished as a kind of burlesque netherworld. When we stepped from the inn on to 23 rd Street the phones of traffic suddenly returned and we met ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent displacement in my insight 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 duration, an accumulation of the marks so many have acquired on it. At least until now.