The Chelsea Hotel has been dwelling to culture icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As controversial renovations continue, Colin Miller pictures the hotels last remaining apartments and their residents
In 2015, an building conglomerate 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 seemed down the cast-iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former majesty. Segments of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signalings of a vibrant parish of residents who attended deeply for their home. I had just been a ambiguous gumption of the Chelsea then, primarily through the film Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the edge of the punk scene.
An aura of notoriety and clevernes emanated from the inn. Former tenants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and shoot her Sex volume there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two chants about the thing “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had envisioned, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining occupants before the historic sections 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 participating his apartment was like crossing into another feature. In his living room, light by dozens of candles, my partner and I were rapt as he told us about his life in the hotel. 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 resounds of traffic unexpectedly returned and we find ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and strong switching in my sensing of the hotel and I began to form a deeper understanding of the worlds people 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 duration, an accumulation of the marks so many have represented on it. At least until now.