The Chelsea Hotel has been dwelling to cultural icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As contentious redevelopments continue, Colin Miller photographs the hotels last-place remaining apartments and their residents
In 2015, an architecture 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 searched down the iron staircase I see anything of the hotel’s former exaltation. Pieces of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible mansions of a vibrant parish of local residents who attended deep for their home. I had only a ambiguous 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 popularity and imagination started 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 film her Sex notebook there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two lyrics about the circumstance he had there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had realized, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining occupants before the historic 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 penetrating his apartment was like crossing into another dimension. In his living room, well-lighted by dozens of candles, my wife and I were rapt as he told us about their own lives 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 hotel on to 23 rd Street the audios of traffic unexpectedly returned and we learnt ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and potent transformation in my insight 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 collection 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 established on it. At least until now.