The Chelsea Hotel has been residence to cultural icons from Janis Joplin to Andy Warhol. As controversial renovations continue, Colin Miller photographs the inns 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 pictures I took were forgettable, but when I gazed down the cast-iron staircase I saw something of the hotel’s former splendor. Slice of the tenants’ artwork embellished the stairwell and amid the construction mess were visible clues of a vibrant community of residents who attended deep for their home. I had just been a vague 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 popularity and imagination started from the hotel. Former inhabitants include Allan Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith; Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died there; Madonna lived and shooting her Sex work there, and Leonard Cohen wrote two chants about the thing he had there with Janis Joplin. Struck by what I had seen, I set out to photograph the homes of the last remaining residents 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 enrolling his apartment was like crossing into another aspect. In his living room, lit by dozens of candles, my partner and I were rapt as he told us about his life in the hotel. 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 dins of traffic abruptly returned and we noticed ourselves back in the real world. But Tony’s home had created a distinct and powerful switch in my knowledge 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 collecting of the lives of those who had lived there before him. The Chelsea is a collaboration across hour, an accumulation of the marks so many have obligated on it. At least until now.