Andy Warhol, Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Naomi Campbell are just on the short list of household names that legendary fashion and celebrity photographer Rose Hartman has captured with her 35 mm lens. Known for her extensive catalogue of photos taken at Studio 54 in its heyday, including the iconic image of Bianca Jagger atop a white horse, Hartman is in a league of her own in the world of photography, and has the forty year career to prove it. Ahead of her exhibit opening at Hostetler Gallery on July 25, N Magazine sat down with Hartman to find out the secret behind her magic, and just how that larger-than-life equine found its way to the dance floor back in 1977.
N MAGAZINE: What drew you to photographing the fashion world? The people, the lifestyle, the clothes, the destinations, or something else?
HARTMAN: I always loved behind the scenes. [One time] I met a book agent, and he said, “What attracts you?” And I said, “The change – a young model walks in in a pair of blue jeans and forty-five minutes later she’s transformed into a hothouse flower.” I love that. I love being able to document that. So, I would be invited behind the scenes, and that just… something about that has always appealed to me, the way somebody can be changed – obviously with hair and makeup people, with a woman dressing the models, etc. I always loved style more than fashion, because fashion is transitory, and style is forever. A quote for you is from Diana Vreeland saying, “It’s the way you get up in the morning and go to sleep at night.” You could be wearing a white t-shirt [that costs] $5 and a pair of jeans, as Lauren Hutton was wearing one night. It was probably not $5, but because she was Lauren Hutton, she still looked incredible.
N MAGAZINE: How do you think your work has evolved over the course of your career?
HARTMAN: Well, in a way I kind of put it in your venue to tell me. I’ve been shooting for over forty years. I’ve shot everybody from Jackie Onassis to John Kennedy Jr. I think maybe my eye is more sophisticated, but in a certain sense maybe there’s a consistency. I always look for beauty in a person, and [an] interesting face, personality. I can’t stand the, “Give me your public face.” I never want to photograph people who offer that. When [I’m] photographing, I try to wait until I can capture something. I want to say something that reveals the soul. Well, it’s not so easy, because public persons don’t want to give you their soul, do they? They want to give you their public face. So I might say something… here’s a little vignette: Ralph and Ricky Lauren were walking into Lincoln Center for a gala. I was invited to the gala so I was in the lobby, and I looked at them and I said to Ricky (his wife), “Who are you wearing?” What do you think their response was? They just laughed, because it was the dumbest question you could ask. Of course, who is she wearing? Her husband’s clothes! That would be an example I would just make up in the moment [to get them to be themselves]. In other words, I had no plan in my mind. But I knew when I saw them, I didn’t want the public persona that they would be projecting.
N MAGAZINE: Your first book, Birds of Paradise, gives readers an intimate look behind the scenes of Fashion Week catwalks, documenting the work of designers and models as they prepare for the show. What inspired this new angle on the fashion world and how do you think this collection fits in with your work as a whole?
HARTMAN: Well of course, I always love the glamour of a fashion show, which might take 15 minutes – you can imagine the effort that goes into that 15 minutes. I photographed all the supermodels. They were so beyond fantastic, I couldn’t believe it, it was almost overwhelming. Naomi [Campbell] would walk the runway, in her particular style of walking – I can’t explain it, you’d have to see it. She owned the runway. Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, the gorgeous, gorgeous women in beautiful clothing with the attitude. You know the line Linda said, “I don’t get up for less than $10,000 a day.” They actually meant it. Nowadays, ugh so boring. To me the models look catatonic, they have no personality at all. It’s just another world. It’s just a difference, now it’s far more commercial. But I’m talking about the 90s, and being at the major shows: Mizrahi, Versace. Name the person, I was there. You actually would be mesmerized during those shows, really. I would sit in the front, and there would be maybe, I don’t know, 150 photographers behind me. I would sit on the floor so that I could have the best view, the model coming into my camera, which of course was Canon.
N MAGAZINE: The photograph of Bianca Jagger riding a white horse at Studio 54 is said to be your most recognizable piece of work. Can you talk a bit about how you came to capture that image, and why you think it has become so iconic?
HARTMAN: Everyone wants to know that. I would dance at Studio, I wouldn’t just be walking around with the camera, because I had this really fabulous dance partner, who was actually a professional dancer who studied with Martha Graham. So we would just be dancing. And then, I don’t know, maybe it was one o’clock in the morning, I looked up, and there was a white horse with a Lady Godiva on it, with body paint [and] long blonde hair. And she got off the horse, and everybody knew, especially Halston, that Bianca loved horses. So she got on the horse for maybe one minute in her Halston dress and posed. There were maybe about four other photographers, but I feel like I got the most beautiful image, because if you look at her eyes, they just kind of… I think [they’re] quite special. I think her expression is just perfect. So that was it, and then they took the horse out. Because can you imagine, a horse? People don’t understand that, the horse wasn’t hanging around.
N MAGAZINE: When capturing celebrities, how does one define the difference between an onlooker with a camera, like the paparazzi, and an artist?
HARTMAN: That’s a good question. Well, I spend all my free time either going to photo galleries, going to photo lectures, looking at photos online – it’s my life, really. And I think the paparazzi are trying to get a bad shot, like somebody lying on the ground drunk, and I would never do that in my whole career. I’m very proud of that.
N MAGAZINE: Do you have a strategy for navigating the chaotic surroundings of many of your famous photographs, such as Fashion Week or Studio 54, particularly when it comes to capturing more intimate moments?
HARTMAN: No, I would just walk around through the room, and I then might see Diane Von Furstenberg sitting with Barry Diller, and I would love the expression on her face, because she wasn’t posing for me, and I would take the picture. Simple as that. But I would be really watching.
N MAGAZINE: What is the most effort you have ever put into getting the perfect photograph? Have you ever had to employ unconventional methods to be in the right place at the right time?
HARTMAN: No, never unconventional, because I was always shooting with a 35 mm [lens]. I was always very close to my subjects. I would not use a 600 mm lens, as many photographers have. No, I would be invited, I would know who was coming, I would look for the person. Somebody might be dancing, like Carolina Herrera. [She’s] one of my favorite subjects. I love her dearly.
N MAGAZINE: What advice would you offer to photographers (or artists of any kind) looking to turn their passion into a profession?
HARTMAN: That they have passion, and they stay with that. They don’t go all over, they don’t do boats and houses, and blah blah blah. They do the subject that most intrigues them, and they just try to see that subject in many different lights.
N MAGAZINE: What excites you about showing on Nantucket?
HARTMAN: It’s like a movie set, I tell you. I keep thinking they’re going to say lights, [camera,] action, because of all the architecture. I’ve spent four months basically sitting in my apartment on Charles Street [in New York City], and it’s a beautiful street, but all the people would visit and they’d be [just] on the stoop. So Nantucket I think is an unreal place to me, and quite magical.
Rose Hartman’s exhibit “Magical Glances” will open to the public with a celebration from 6-8 pm on Saturday, July 25 at Hostetler Gallery.