Rose Hartman's Studio 54
Rose Hartman is more New York than a yellow cab, and she has the indelible chutzpah of a yellow cab driver. We found Rose whilst shooting with Bruce Gilden in the Big Apple. She is one of the faces in his portfolio for Issue Six. “I’m a photographer too you know” she declared, handing a business card over. And what a photographer.
ROSE HARTMAN Interview JOHN WILLIAM
Her images of the revelers at Studio 54 epitomise and eulogise a particular era or glamour, that seems incompatible with smart phones and social media. Rose has photographed society, fashion, celebrity and glamour “always looking for that expression behind the facade.” I am calling from London and the incomparible Rose Hartman answers with her unmistakable New York accent. I ask about the weather. “Come on, move along. I love your magazine, but seriously, come on.”
Beauty Papers: How long have you lived in New York?
Rose Hartman: My entire life. I’m the only New Yorker you’ll ever speak to.
BP: A native New Yorker?
RH: Seriously. I was born on Ninth Street and Avenue C. Now it’s called the East Village.
BP: Are you still inspired by New York?
RH: Oh yes, I love New York. I mean I was just in Beijing one month ago, and I said to myself, “I’m very happy that I don’t live there, with 22 million people.”
BP: [Laughs] What is it that makes New York so special?
RH: Well the energy. The kinds of people who are attracted to New York are a lot of very talented people who come from all parts of the country and from Europe and South America. There are always fantastic events to participate in. I just went to the opening of the Warhol Exhibition at the Whitney a few nights ago and it was fantastic, so that’s it.
BP: Could you pick one picture that summarised New York?
RH: That’s really a difficult question. Maybe somebody would photograph the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Maybe. Quite frankly I find that very difficult to imagine that there would be only one photograph that could summarise it.
BP: Tell me about when you started taking pictures. When was it, why was it?
RH: Well I had been a high school English teacher, and I was frustrated with the necessity of having to keep the students in order. They were very rambunctious. And so I was always interested in expressing myself, and my Father always had a camera around his neck, even though he was not a professional photographer. I was inspired to start taking classes in photography and started shooting. I always loved behind the scenes, meaning when the models were getting dressed. I was one of the first photographers who did that. I went behind the scenes to catch these women before they transformed into hothouse flowers. They would come in in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and suddenly they would look so magnificent. Women like Kate, Linda, Christy Turlington. All The top models were working during the nineties.
BP: Your work is so spontaneous. Did you ever try staging a fashion shoot?
RH: Not really, I mean I’ve been hired along the way to photograph a CEO or a designer, but basically ninety nine and three quarters of my images are always spontaneous. I’m always looking for that expression behind the facade.
"I always loved behind the scenes. I was one of the first photographers who did that. I went behind the scenes to catch these women before they transformed into hothouse flowers."
BP: And how do you know when you’ve captured that?
RH: [Laughs] It’s funny … I just feel it. I might look at the person for a little while just quietly. I’m like – I always say – a fly on the wall. Remember I was using analogue film, so I have thousands of slides as well as black and white contact sheets.
BP: When you’re taking the picture, do you know which one has worked? Or is it always a surprise on the contact sheet?
RH: Hmm. Again, I would have a feeling but not until I saw the contact sheet or other slides, which would generally be the next day. Let’s say I would photograph on Monday night, I would have to bring the film into a lab, deposit in a little slot and then the next day I would see the results of my work. I usually had a pretty good feeling. I wouldn’t take a lot of pictures of anybody. It would just be a few shots.
BP: How important is it to you that the people look beautiful?
RH: Completely important. I want to capture their style, and that has been my attempt for, I don’t know, forty years.
BP: When did you first become aware of style?
RH: Oh my God, well, I have to say, even when I was very young my Mother would have her clothes custom made even though we lived on the Lower East Side. She was very fashionable and she would order a subscription to Vogue magazine. So I would spend a lot of time looking at Vogue. It always intrigued me, because everybody in magazines – especially at that time – were so, so stylish. So it just became part of me. You know, somebody might read magazines about airplanes or dogs, but I was always interested in style. Maybe because I was born on the Lower East Side. I was drawn to that other world, the world of originality. Those fashionistas who you have running around London might not have a dime or a pound, but they would always manage to look so striking.
BP: Do you think people have lost style? Or do you still see stylish New Yorkers in action?
RH: That’s a very good question. I do, but I would say to you, for example if I were to go to the ballet… Okay, so here’s Lincoln Centre and it’s a marvellous building, and it’s opening night of the ballet. So that night, people would be very, very dressed. But you might go to the ballet during the week and you see people in sneakers looking really unkempt, and that always stuns me, because I think how rude can you be, if you can’t even make an effort to dress?!
BP: [Laughs] Do you think that there is any style in casual wear or do you think style is about making more of an effort?
RH: Oh, you can wear casual clothes but that’s very different from looking like a slob. Which has become very prevalent. For example, I’ve been in Milan and I remember that everyone, every single person that walked down the street looked amazing! They care when they leave their homes. I’m not saying you have to be dressed all the time, but I would say clothing should fit you properly. Here in New York you see so many men wearing jeans that don’t fit them at all, and they look so sloppy, and you know that they’ve not taken off those jeans for forty years!
BP: [Laughs] Is there a man who you find very stylish?
RH: Oh yes. Rupert Everett, for example. Oh my God, Tom Wolfe the author.
BP: Oh, Tom Wolfe, what an amazing brain.
RH: Amazing. He might have gone to the extreme, I mean wearing a white linen suit in the middle of New York is a little extreme, but that was his signature. Oh and Hamish Bowles. Stunning!
BP: He looks like an English garden in full bloom. Beautiful.
RH: It’s funny because he does so many articles on people’s homes in England and often there are wonderful gardens included. Yes, yes, yes.
BP: Talking signatures, what is your signature style?
RH: [Laughs] That’s funny. I usually wear black. I feel comfortable in black. I like to look stylish, but I’m probably a bit discreet. I never wear floral prints, ever, and black for me is in a New York statement.
BP: How do you feel about Bruce Gilden’s photograph of you?
RH: I hate the picture. Do you want me to go on about that? He’s a fabulous photographer – don’t get me wrong – but he goes for something else. That distortion, that extreme close up, I would never take those pictures because I would never want anyone to be seen in a light that I consider not flattering. I remember once I was in Soho and I saw Catherine Deneuve. “May I take your picture?” I asked. Perhaps she wasn’t at her best, you know, she didn’t have all her makeup on, and she said no. And that was the moment that I said to myself, “I will never ever ask anybody again if I can take their picture.”
BP: Seek forgiveness, don’t ask permission?
RH: Okay. So that was the beginning of my knowing that my approach would be very different. Being very quiet and be watching people. Looking for an expression that would reveal something, that would take you away from a stereotypical posed facade, which I just hate.
BP: Tell me about a moment or a memory from the Studio 54 days.
RH: Well a moment, of course, was the night very early in the years of Studio when Bianca had her birthday and I was dancing. I always danced and I would hide my camera in the speaker. Yes, yes, I did and then I would grab the camera when I saw something, cause I loved to dance. Anyway, suddenly I saw a white horse. She was not on it, it was a Lady Godiva with long hair and I couldn’t believe it and I grabbed my camera and then the Lady Godiva person got off the horse, and Bianca got on holding flowers, just for a moment or two, dressed in all silk, and nobody could believe it. I was thinking later, maybe the horse was given some calming pills because I couldn’t imagine that he could stand still. Remember there was a disco ball, it was very dark, and there was the sound of all the people. They removed the horse very quickly, and she and Mick kissed one another. I’ve never seen another picture like that, and I was told it was the shot heard round the world. That was written by Bob Colacello in The New York Times about my photo, and I mean, I couldn’t ask for more.
"There wasn’t a rope separating you once the curtain was raised, and that’s what made Studio so brilliant. So it would be the shoe salesman who might be making five dollars an hour the next day, and it would be Yves Saint Laurent, rubbing shoulders."
BP: He’s always written very kindly about you. It must be nice to have someone so talented be so complimentary about your work?
RH: Well, yeah. Believe it or not, when they’d done that book on Andy, there was a book signing in Chelsea, and he wrote to me with great admiration and I really was so touched. Because the truth is I don’t care about receiving compliments from people who know nothing about photography, it doesn’t touch me at all, but when somebody is either a photographer or a real critic, then that touches me and then I’m thrilled.
BP: Is there a photographer who you really respect?
RH: I respect William Klein.
BP: So you got involved at Studio 54, you weren’t just taking pictures?
RH: Oh, totally. Totally. Steve Rubell the co-owner, invited me and told the door people to, “Let her in immediately.” So I never had to wait at all, which I never would have done, because I can’t bare that! People wait in line to go into a local West Village restaurant, I think they’re insane!
BP: Were those days really as glorious as they seem when we look back on them?
RH: Absolutely, yes! Oh no, without a doubt! But the great thing about Studio, maybe you wouldn’t know this, is that once the curtain was raised between the private parties – like Valentino’s birthday for example – then everyone could mix and mingle. So you were right next to, let’s say, Diane Von Furstenberg. There wasn’t a rope separating you once the curtain was raised, and that’s what made Studio so brilliant. So it would be the shoe salesman who might be making five dollars an hour the next day, and it would be Yves Saint Laurent, rubbing shoulders.
BP: Were you ever shocked by anything you saw there?
RH: Hmm. Not really, because I wouldn’t stay that late and I know shocking moments are much later when people were really high. I mean everybody would be passing around ecstasy, which was just a simple momentary high, but later, as it got later, there was a pretty heavy use of drugs.
BP: Does anything shock you? You seem quite un-shockable.
RH: Heh. Yeah, well I’ve seen so much.
BP: What was the last picture you took that you were really happy with?
RH: Daphne Guinness’ hand.
BP: [Laughs] What is it about her hand?
RH: Well I mean, obviously you’ve not seen the picture. She’s just covered in rings, and a blue sash and ribbon around her, and bracelets. I mean, everything you can think of, but the joke is you don’t have to see her face. You know who that is.
BP: So tell me, what is your shooting process now?
RH: I go out with my iPhone 8. I love the iPhone, I feel like I should represent them.
BP: Do you ever use analogue?
RH: Oh, no. Never. First of all, they don’t sell the film anymore.
BP: Do you have a particular beauty secret or beauty regime?
RH: [Laughs] Yes I swim very frequently at a private health club, and they have a wonderful steam room.
BP: And how about cosmetics?
RH: Oh, that’s a funny question. I mean obviously I use a liquid makeup, I have a moisturiser, I wear Mac blush and red lipstick. That’s it.
BP: And what would you like your legacy to be as a photographer?
RH: Oh Lord. That I really caught the best in my circle.
BP: Do you think that you have?
RH: Oh in many cases yes, but I could say it’s up to you to look at the images, not for me to decide.
BP: If there was one person in the whole world whose picture you could take tomorrow?
RH: Oh! Miss Cate Blanchett.
RH: There’s no question, is there!