The Chelsea Hotel has been residence to culture icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As contentious redevelopments continue, Colin Miller images the inns last-place remaining suites and their residents
In 2015, an structure conglomerate approached me to take some photographs of the renovations they’d made to the historic Chelsea Hotel after the building was sold. The images I took were forgettable, but when I gazed down the cast-iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former blessing. Segments of the tenants’ artwork decorated the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible signalings of a vibrant parish of local residents who attended deeply for their residence. I had only a vague sense of the Chelsea then, mainly through the film Sid and Nancy and from living in New York on the leading edge of the punk scene.
An aura of notoriety and invention originated from the hotel. Former residents include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and film her Sex journal there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two songs about the affair “hes had” there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had encountered, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining inhabitants before the historic gangs 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 facet. In his living room, light by dozens of candles, my wife and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives 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 clangs of traffic abruptly returned and we experienced ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent shift in my feeling of the hotel 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 collecting 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 prepared on it. At least until now.