ZINGCHAT: Rose Hartman's Incomparable Couples

In 1977 only weeks after the opening of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell's legendary Studio 54, the young and beautiful Bianca Jagger rode onto a colorful strobe-lit dance floor on a white horse ringing in her 27th birthday. Steve Rubell knew that the up and coming New York photographer Rose Hartman was working on her first book, Birds of Paradise, and personally invited her to the club that night. Armed with her compact Olympus SLR she was poised at the ready and captured the moment with her most iconic image, what Bob Colacello labeled: "the shot that was heard around the world!" Bianca on a white horse appeared on the front page of every newspaper from New York to Singapore and heralded Hartman who would become a major force on New York's glamorous nightlife and fashion scene tirelessly shooting all the best parties, the fashion shows and capturing the demimonde, the club kids, and the private parties held beyond the velvet ropes hosted by the international glitterati. For more than 30 years Hartman's images have appeared in newsprint and fashion magazines including Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Vanity Fair. Her second book Incomparable Woman of Style features over 200 photographs including reproductions of vintage silver prints Hartman developed in a studio she set up in her West Village home. We recently caught up with Rose at Sant Ambroeus on Lafayette Street to talk pictures and her new book Incomparable Couples, a glittering compendium of dynamic duos: mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and lovers, designers and muses.


Mary Barone: Rose, congratulations on the book. It's got some spectacular images. The cover image of David Bowie and Iman. I don't think there's a person on the planet who doesn't know who David Bowie is, but beyond that did you choose it as the cover because it was one of your favorites?


Rose: Totally, there's no question. It is one of my favorite images; look at it, how he’s biting his lip! That’s what I love.


Brandon Johnson: Was that in response to something you said?


R: I don’t know. Obviously, I’m in front of them, but I’m not engaged with them in conversation. Let’s make that clear. Sometimes I am, but this time I wasn’t.


B: But you’re acting as the observer - as the photographer, you are looking for the moment that you want to capture.


R: Absolutely, isn’t that what photographers do?


M: Rose, but Iman looks at you so lovingly.


R: It’s amazing. The truth is I was actually in Mustique. I had been invited by a very nice friend who has a house there so I went and they lived there too. I can’t remember if that was before or after, but she obviously recognized me because I was always shooting the fashion shows. I was always backstage. But we were definitely not having a conversation that I could remember.


M: As a way to look at the pictures beyond the surface, for example the picture of Carmen and Horst.  For the zing community who might not know who Carmen is, that she started her modeling career when she was 14.


R: Yeah, and now she’s like 84!


M: And she still actively models, but looking at the photograph do you remember the event. The picture is so colorful and lively, I can almost hear what was going on.


R: It was a book signing, a book party for Horst at Bendel’s department store on 5th Avenue. That’s all I can tell you. Lovely people came and obviously he had photographed Carmen in her earlier career and they were just having one of those moments.  Beyond the surface is a relationship between two people. Obviously the model really respected the photographer, who was a genius, and the photographer really respected her and that’s what you see in that picture.

M: And I also see those great Chanel earrings she's wearing!


R: See, now that’s so interesting!


M: They are fantastic.


R: Well, let’s put it this way, she’s not going to go out in vendor earrings.


M. Hahaha, that's true . . . certainly not Carmen with her wicked sense of style.



M: I love this one of Annie Leibovitz and Jerry Hall.  A photographer always seems to give a great picture. 



R: It’s probably the best picture I’ve seen of her. I am bragging now because I’ve seen thousands of pictures of Annie Leibovitz where she looks frozen.


M: Yeah, it's true, most images of her she can look timid but in this one she looks so alive. She's got a beautiful smile.


R: So it was taken at the Algonquin Hotel and I believe it was some kind of book party, but you know it’s really hard for me to remember. This happened almost 25 years ago.


M: Of course, but the images are so lively and glamorous! It’s fun to hear you talk about them. Like this one of Cher and Bob Mackie.  It's at the height of Cher and Bob Mackie looks so handsome!


R: Bob Mackie would always design her clothes so he would always take her out and you’d say, “Oh my god! Cher, you look fabulous!” and he would be happy because it would make his career rise.


M: Forget the people who try to shock and transcend the norm now. Cher was wearing things by Bob Mackie back in the day when no one would take those kinds of fashion risks on the red carpet, and she did it with so much style and elegance and deadpan. She's a genius!



R: And the photographers would just go crazy. But, of course, for me the interesting moment is that he is glancing at his work.


B: Is that the movement in this photograph that you were looking for, when he is looking at his own work on Cher?


R: Yeah, you understand, let’s say I’m chatting with you but you’re not famous, but I like you. We are having a lovely conversation, but my eye is always over there. I know exactly who’s in the room, so I would know if they were nearby. I think that was at the Costume Institute Gala at the Met, back when I’d be invited inside.  Now it's become a very guarded event.


M: The picture was taken in 1985, in fact. 


R: Yes when I would have had such great freedom. But again, I’d be chatting; I wouldn’t be standing in front of them. But at the moment I could feel something, I could sense something, and I don’t even know even how to verbalize it. I would just have that sense.


M. I saw in WWD the other day that Cher went with Marc Jacobs to this year's gala and she was wearing a beautiful Marc Jacobs gown. She's still supporting designers' careers.


B: So Rose, your picture of Cher and Bob Mackie was taken at a time when photographers had more freedom to roam, to be more  intuitive. Was the picture pure intuition?


R: Totally, because it’s a question Elle Magazine Croatia came and asked me. They did a big story and I’m laughing, because they want to know 'why I took the picture'  and I think you’ve answered it absolutely correctly.


B: Do you feel like you developed this sense over time? Did it become easier for you to find these moments, or is it an ability you feel you naturally have.


R: This is also a good question, I don’t really have the answer. In other words when I met you, I’m already looking at the stripe on your t-shirt, I’m looking at you visually. It’s always interesting to me and it always has been. I will say this, I was born on the lower east side at 9th and C when it wasn’t gentrified and my mother would subscribe to Vogue. So I was looking at Vogue as a very young girl and it stuck with me because I was thinking, "my god, those people are having such a fabulous time, and they’re so beautiful, so immaculate," and that excitement I'd feel looking at those pictures has never left me.


B: So you were seeing these pictures and these images and fashion, and you were clearly influenced by them and it seems you developed your visual repertoire through this database you've stored in your mind.


M: It probably didn’t hurt growing up on the lower east side of New York.


R: I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else.


M: Yeah in terms of the visuals and the people and the architecture … 


R: Yes! So you know, my favorite walk at my age now is being on Madison Avenue at 7 o’clock  at night when no one is there and looking in every window. You can’t get better. I don’t want to be with anyone; I just want to take it in and there’s no one there between 59th and 79th streets.


M: I love that same walk. Sometimes if I’m leaving a museum opening or something, I do that walk. It’s pitch dark, it’s only the spotlights shining on the mannequins in the boutiques and the silhouettes and the clothing. You certainly don’t feel alone but it's also so quiet.


R: Quiet, yes, and I also feel very safe when I’m walking there, but I feel like it’s a very comfortable part of New York at night time. 


M: On the subject of New York, let’s face it, these two, certainly for my generation, we watched John-John and Caroline Kennedy grow up on TV, in the newspapers, but looking at this photograph of them … I mean Rose … this is really something.  It shows all the sibling love. That sibling energy is so dynamic.


R: I don’t think Caroline has seen it.


M: She hasn’t seen it?


R: Well, it’s not like I’m knocking on the door of the Ambassador to Japan, am I?!


M: Maybe you should!




M: Here's another great brother and sister duo: Donatella and Gianni Versace.


R: Look at how shy she was, and look how beautiful she was.


M: And look at how beautiful and tanned Gianni Versace is.


R: Well, he was signing his perfume bottle at Saks Fifth Avenue.


M: I love the little details in the shot, the neoclassical decoration on the chair. It’s so Versace.



R: Well, hello! I think that’s why it was placed there. I would like to know how many other people notice that.


M: It’s brilliant how you get it all, Rose. 


R: And so I was there; they were there and … 


M: Rose, Dominique who is assisting us today, is a second year undergraduate at NYU Gallatin and before you arrived she was particularly drawn to this picture of the Rueda sisters.


R: So many people have said that and this is my most recent shot.


Dominique Lufrano: You photographed them this year?


R: You know, the book needed to be published so I took it last year.


M: So it was a setup?


R: Totally, don’t you see? When hands are like that.



B: It looks like a painting.


R: I met them at an exhibition opening at the Lincoln Center for Klaus Lucka, the photographer.  It was an evening where they projected his photographs on a wide screen with ballet dancing and these women were there, tiny as they are in extraordinary Spanish mantillas, they were so beautiful. I introduced myself but I didn’t have a camera, so I asked them, “do you think I could visit you for tea?” to which they told me that they lived on East 52nd Street and that this one on the left, Caroline is her name, I think she's a couture designer. So they invited me over and we had tea at their home which is minimal gothic, so otherworldly, and then they were dressed like that. I almost fainted. You know, they’re like each a size 0 .. and then they sat there and were like "whatever," and then I said to myself, "Okay Rose, quick! before they get into a pose which would be so boring!"


D: I love her whole gaze. They're so sculptural.


R: She’s like a piece of sculpture! The one on the left, Caroline, she speaks a lot of English but her sister Elise doesn't and just sort of nods “yes” or “no.”


M: Where are they originally from?


R: Romania, Spain, France, it’s all mixed up. So that’s that story. So what’s your comment? I’d rather hear from you, Dominique.


D: No, I just think they look so classically Southern European, and I just wanted to know what the story was behind the photograph.


R: Well, that’s the story. Everyone asks about that photograph because you don’t expect to see anything like them.


M: The book is filled with so many iconic figures and celebrity icons.



R: Like Yoko Ono?


M: Yeah, look how adorable Sean Lennon is! What's the date?


R: 1994.


B: I wanted to ask you about photographing couples, a duo. It’s obviously not the same as classic portrait photography. Do you approach photographing pairs differently than you would an individual?


R: No, whatever I’m doing, I’m doing whether it’s one or two or three. I’m trying to get it to be the most interesting picture. Of course, two presents challenges that one does not present, but the results I find are somewhat more interesting.


M: Speaking of couples, this one of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, taken in 1996. They're adorable.




R: I don’t think she’s seen it either. I keep looking for her. She’s a neighbor, but she doesn’t hang out. I mean, it would be great to bump into her and show her the photograph.


M: In fact, many of the married couples in the book seem happy together except this one of Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt, who seem completely detached both physically and psychologically. 


R: True, I think they were married for about six months.



B: Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt.

R: Yes, he’s the ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor. Suzie Hunt doesn't look like she was having a good time either.


M: Versus Mick and Bianca who look like they were having a lovely time in 1977.



R: Well, are you asking me? I can’t comment on how lovely a time they were having, I can only comment on what I took.

M: Well, it looks like a candid shot, it’s just the extreme opposite of the one of Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt on the previous page.  I’m just putting it out there. The pacing of the book, the contrast of happy versus miserable is so interesting.


M: These two pictures side by side of Calvin and Kelly Klein in 1986 at the Costume Institute gala, when Cher was there with Bob Mackey.


R: Tell me your comment on these two photographs.


M: Oh well, in one they're just arriving and Kelly looks happy and in the other they're leaving and she looks pretty unhappy.


B: It looks like he did something wrong?


R: I don’t know if he’s done something wrong, but he’s definitely not being attentive to her.


B: It's a curious picture. It’s interesting.





M: On the note of pacing, it was an interesting idea of the art director to pace it this way with the coming and going. But again, Calvin Klein looks distracted, perhaps someone called his name and she sort of just seems to be in a moment. I mean, they're not as clearly detached from one another as the Richard Burton/Suzie Hunt picture. I mean, that is a striking image of a couple.  It's dark.


R: [Pointing out the back cover image] You know, that’s Keith Richards's son Marlon with his wife Lucie de la Falaise, LouLou's niece.



M: Rose, I have this one last question. 

R: Please.


M: Is much of what you do your own design, because for years I’ve seen you everywhere, uptown, downtown, crosstown, midtown. Do you have an editor who says, “Rose, go shoot these three events.”


R: I’m very glad you asked that. When I started my career I was with a photo stock agency called Globe Photo, it was one of the largest agencies at that time next to Getty Images. I asked them to get a list, a fashion calendar so we could start to plan stories. 


B: So you started out with Globe?


R: Yes, I would go to the office and review the calendar.  For example, one event would be on the calendar, it was a party Armani was throwing to celebrate the opening of their New York boutique. I knew the PR woman, and they  knew I would do something beautiful, so they’d invite me.  And there you have Sophia Lauren presenting a book on cooking, which seemed a little strange, but Mel Gibson is standing by her side. What more could you ask for?  It made a marvelous photograph! 


B: You kind of pioneered the fashion aspect at Globe?


R: Yeah, I absolutely did. Pioneered is the word. No one at the agency knew anything about models or fashion. I was working on my first book Birds of Paradise ...


B: … and this was for Globe? The party photos?


R: No, Birds of Paradise was not for Globe. The book was published by Delta Books in 1980. It included pictures I'd taken while working for Globe, but images where I owned the copyright. I always kept images for myself, like Bianca on a White Horse for example.


B: And you kept the negatives and the transparencies? You didn’t hand them all in?

R: No!


B: Because now images are so easy to grab right off the internet. Back then a photographer had outright ownership with analogue film.


R: They were my negatives. I was writing a book, Birds of Paradise, an Intimate View of the New York Fashion World. It's how I was invited to Studio 54 for Bianca Jagger's birthday party.  Steve Rubell knew I was working on the book. I was writing it and had been taking photographs of models at Studio 54 so he personally invited me to the club that night.


M: On that note, you recently had an amazing exhibition at FIT, the central image being Bianca on a White Horse. It’s a beautiful picture.


R: It’s my most iconic picture and a picture I still love to look at, it brings back memories when New York nightlife was so vibrant. It was such a thrilling time to be a nightlife photographer in New York.



Bianca on a White Horse, 1977 from Incomparable Women of Style by Rose Hartman

Rose Hartman will be in conversation at New York Public Library on May 11th at 6:30.  Incomparable Couples is published by ACC Publishing Group and available on Amazon.com