Rose Hartman, the “Relentless” Photographer of Studio 54 Excess, Refuses to Slow Down

Rose Hartman - Donna Karan's 5 easy pieces

)tis Mass, who directed a documentary about her in 2016, called her “incomparable.” Asher Edelman, whose gallery in his ever-ascending East 70th Street townhouse is now exhibiting her work, dubbed her “infamous.”

But what adjective would Rose Hartman use to describe herself? “Relentless.”

The octogenarian photographer, who captured Bianca Jagger atop a horse at Studio 54 and Lou Reed chatting with Andy Warhol, cannot be stopped, not even by a recent ankle injury that’s put her in physical therapy. In addition to the Edelman exhibit, recently extended through February 28, she is currently working to secure a museum show, getting ready for an auction of her work in Paris in early March, and preparing a new book, tentatively titled Rose Hartman: In Pursuit of Style.

Where she finds that style these days, however, isn’t in the models and stars who once inspired her. “Lately I’ve been shooting windows,” she says from the floor of her studio apartment while adjusting the Velcro strap on an elastic ankle brace. “I’m calling the series ‘Femme Fatales.’ These windows to me equal total fantasy. The window wants to draw you, the passerby, into the shop. The lighting, the clothing, the objects—window displays are definitely an art.”

With this new series, a fantasy world devoid of flesh, blood, sweat, and tears, it’s easy to infer that Hartman is looking to recapture a particularly excessive fabulousness rarely seen on living contemporary mortals; an over-the-top, peacocked bedazzlement immortalized in her first book, 1980’s Birds of Paradise: An Intimate View of the New York Fashion World.

Hartman is vocal about her disappointment in the current crop of “It girls” and next-gen catwalkers. “Models nowadays are so boring. I can’t believe it,” she says. How can they be more super, you dare ask? “I think they have to have what is known as a personality.”

Is “Femme Fatales” an anthropological lament for larger-than-life glam, now confined, if not within the frames on her wall or in coffee-table books, than to sterile glass boxes? “We’d have to call a psychoanalyst, but I think you have a point,” she says.

The Edelman exhibit, featuring roughly two dozen of Hartman’s most iconic images, allows a glimpse through Hartman’s lens at the upper echelons of fashion, film, art, and music, in all their striking, candid glamour during the heyday of Studio 54.

Rose Hartman - Bianca Jagger

“It was a beyond fascinating time, almost impossible to describe,” says Hartman from inside her charming West Village apartment, where a visit is sure to include a last-minute plea to fix a distressed bedside lamp or a wobbly, pre-war doorknob. Though Rose can wax on rather poetically about her time elbowing her way into Studio and dancing the night away, she’d rather point a frustratingly ignorant millennial visitor towards Ian Schrager’s recently released, hardcover tome, Studio 54 (Rizzoli), which conveniently lounges within arm’s reach and paints a rather lucid picture of Studio’s past, present, and future significance. Hartman has a dozen images in the book, she’ll have you know (especially as you’re lingering anywhere else within its confines), alongside many other great photographers. Bob Colacello, who wrote the book’s forward, once called Hartman’s close-to-transcendent image of Bianca Jagger the venue’s most defining image.

Hartman’s ankle injury (a screw came loose from a previous surgery) didn’t keep her from strolling by Bergdorf’s or Saks Fifth Avenue over the holidays, or swimming laps at her local Equinox. But it’s temporarily slowed her down, a frustrating reality for a person whose will, mind, and eye are as sharp as ever. “I used to walk all day, whether in Paris or London,” she says. “I was never someone who just liked to sit in a café. I liked to peer into an alley or window and watch the people go by. Now I have to do a lot less of it and it’s very difficult for me.”

The injury resulted in an upcoming auction and joint exhibit of more than 250 of Hartman’s images at Paris’s esteemed Hôtel Drouot being pushed back to March. By then she hopes to be able to traverse the City of Lights in sensible New York City gear and visit her favorite museum, the European Museum of Photography in the Marais, also her dream exhibition space. “Every time I’m in Paris I go to that museum,“ says Hartman with the earnest pride of a well-seasoned aesthete and a humble pilgrim’s relentless determination. “I would describe it as a more intimate museum as opposed to the Louvre, which I would never walk into. I cannot bear to be surrounded by 10,000 people who know nothing about art searching for the Mona Lisa.

by Kurt McVey at Vanity Fair


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