BY MICHAEL LUONGO | For nearly four decades, Rose Hartman has captured famous personalities in intimate moments — from the worlds of art, fashion, nightlife, and society in New York and elsewhere. Her work has been in hundreds of publications, including Vogue, Stern, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and Allure. Her first book, “Birds of Paradise: An Intimate view of the New York Fashion World,” published by Delacorte Press in 1980, explored the chiffon jungle in photos and text. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York, the Pucci Gallery, the Dia Art Foundation, the Whitney Museum, the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, the Dean Project in Miami, and the Ravestijn Gallery in Amsterdam, among many other locations.
Her second book was “Incomparable Women of Style,” published by Antique Collectors’ Club (ACC) in 2012, and her new book is “Incomparable Couples,” released this year by ACC.
Famed nightlife, society photographer Rose Hartman catalogues a lifetime of images
Hartman spoke to Gay City News about her books, her decades of photos, and what makes nightlife of the past more interesting than it is today.
MICHAEL LUONGO: Tell me about some of the background of your development as a photographer, specifically here in New York.
ROSE HARTMAN: I’ve been a New Yorker all my life. It is a city that I love, although I’ve traveled the world writing travel stories and taking documentary photos from Bali to Buenos Aires. I also took various workshops to hone my craft. Aspen, Colorado was a favorite of mine, and I spent endless hours visiting photo exhibitions and looking at photo books, a great pastime of mine.
An assignment to cover the [Joan] Hemingway wedding in Sun Valley [in 1976] that was published in DNR hooked me. The pleasure of seeing my images on the front page to illustrate “A Moveable Feast” was more than enough to change professions. My first book, “Birds Of Paradise, An Intimate View of the New York Fashion World,” was published in 1980, and I never looked back.
ML: I have always been fascinated by the story of your most famous photo, Bianca Jagger riding on a horse into Studio 54.
RH: In 1977, I began going to Studio 54, the most extraordinary club in the world, to dance. I would leave my cameras in the oversized speakers and capture the fantastic creatures that made each evening so memorable. One night, I glanced up at Bianca Jagger, celebrating her birthday, seated on a spectacular white horse for a few seconds. This was the shot seen round the world and became my most iconic image.
ML: There’s a lot of content that is of gay interest in your new book, “Incomparable Couples.” You have images of Halston, Andy Warhol, Whitney Houston, Rupert Everett, Liberace, Amanda Lepore, Jean Paul Gaultier, and others. Tell us about some of the gay highlights in your book.
RH: Although I titled my third book “Incomparable Couples,” it is really a compendium of amorous duos, gorgeous duos, outrageous duos, and other kinds of duos. What interested me was the originality of my trend-setting subjects, from RuPaul in a leopard jacket and mini-skirt, to Rupert Everett in a vintage, stylish “Russian” coat, to Jean Paul Gaultier in his signature striped sailor shirt, to Warhol actually conversing with Lou Reed, to the sensational Amanda Lepore. I have always been attracted to capturing a segment of the population that is all about extraordinary style.
ML: What’s your favorite New York nightlife moment?
RH: Although I have shot some marvelous people at various clubs, like Area, MK, the Palladium, USA, I have never ever duplicated the excitement of seeing Baryshnikov, Halston, and Mick Jagger at Bianca’s birthday that night with the horse.
ML: Tell me about Andy Warhol, and about how Eric Shiner of Andy Warhol Museum wrote an essay about you for the book.
RH: Warhol — I would see him selling him Interview Magazine around town and at Mickey Ruskin’s famed watering hole [Max's Kansas City]. We never spoke, but he did sign a book for me. I was fascinated by his extraordinary art as well as his uncanny ability to tap into pop culture — and become its emperor. As the New York photographer for the prestigious Italian magazine Panorama, I was invited to the opening of the Warhol Museum, with an array of his signature works as well as those Mylar pillows that floated in space. It was an unforgettable weekend spent visiting Warhol’s home and the cemetery where he was buried. I even received a watch that said, “famous for 15 minutes” that I cherished for years. Eric Shiner, the erudite director of the Warhol Museum, is one of my supporters, and he graciously offered to write an essay for my current book, because, as he said, “It takes two to tango, but it takes Rose to truly dance.”
ML: One of my favorite images in the book is the one of Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell from 1992.
RH: One of my fave shots is Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, two of the super models whom I captured at one of the many private events that I’ve attended throughout my long career, an intimate moment within a room overflowing with fashionables.
ML: For techies, do you now shoot mostly in digital, and if so what are your likes and dislikes of the transition to digital from film?
RH: Only digital. Seeing the results immediately is fantastic!
ML: What are some of your favorite memories from Studio 54, the location of much of your work?
RH: Dancing the night away — surrounded by Valentino, Warhol, Liza, and all those bold-faced names that frequented the private parties held at Studio.
ML: How much has nightlife changed since what many people think are the heydays, the ‘70s and ‘80s, both for gay and, for want of a better word, mainstream nightlife?
RH: Current nightlife is a combo of drinking and talking. No true excitement is connected to nightlife at all.
ML: There is also a documentary about your life coming out now, isn’t there?
RH: I am happy that a documentary film is being edited now on my life and long career. It is an 85-minute-long movie, with Øtis Mass as the director. There are interviews with me and those I have photographed, like Carolina Herrera, Phillip Block, Simon Doonan, Eric Shiner, and others. It’s currently in post-production.
For more details on the documentary about Rose Hartman’s career, visit rosehartmanmovie.com.
INCOMPARABLE COUPLES | By Rose Hartman | Antique Collectors’ Club | $49.50 | 176 pages