Tony Notarberardino’s Chelsea Hotel Portraits preserve a slice of bygone New York life

‘Tony Notarberardino: Chelsea Hotel Portraits, 1994-2010’, on show at New York’s ACA Galleries, is the photographer’s ode to the storied hotel he calls home and its eclectic clientele

From ‘Tony Notarberardino: Chelsea Hotel Portraits, 1994-2010’ exhibition, black and white portrait of performer in jewelled costume smoking, and photo of hotel sign
Left, Tony Notarberardino, ‘Bonnie’, 2006, and right, Chelsea Hotel, 2004
(Image credit: © Tony Notarberardino. Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York)

In the 1990s, New York hotel, The Chelsea, was a hub of bonhomie and bohemianism. An eclectic crowd gathered there, drawn both to the artistic environment it cultivated and for its reputation for setting in motion creative collaborations and avant-garde performances.

For photographer Tony Notarberardino, the hotel was a refuge when he arrived in New York City in 1994. Brought up in Melbourne, Australia, by Italian emigrant parents, Notarberardino – who still lives in the same apartment at The Chelsea Hotel today – was fascinated by the clientele. ‘As a photographer, I found the people who congregated at the hotel – and the hotel itself – to be so inspiring and visually striking,’ he says. ‘It was this magical, commingling of people from all walks of life that made life at the hotel so continuously compelling. It became and continues to be my home.’

Tony Notarberardino’s Chelsea Hotel Portraits

black and white portrait of singer Debbie Harry, posing against wall

Tony Notarberardino, Debbie Harry, 2005

(Image credit: © Tony Notarberardino. Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York)

The move marked the beginning of a series of portraits. ‘At 4am one night in September 1997, I was inside the Chelsea Hotel elevator, returning home, when a hand adorned with long, painted fingernails blocked it from closing. In walked an aged drag queen carrying more shopping bags than she could manage while holding the hand of a six-year-old boy. After four years of letting these moments pass by, I introduced myself and asked if I could photograph her. Without hesitation, she agreed.’

The resulting, large black and white photographs are the subject of a current exhibition at New York’s ACA Galleries. Notarberardino, who has photographed more than 1,500 subjects, continues to capture portraits daily in his hallway, using his vintage 1960s Toyo-View 810GII camera.

black and white portrait of Stanley Bard holding coffee and briefcase

Tony Notarberardino, Stanley Bard, 2008. Bard was co-owner and manager of the Chelsea Hotel for more than four decades

(Image credit: © Tony Notarberardino. Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York)

‘When I first started the series, I was photographing everyone: from the hotel cleaning staff, El Quijote [restaurant] staff waiters, to celebrities. I wasn’t exactly looking – I was more reacting to the circumstances I was in. There is no one formula that led me to photograph people, but it had to do with their style, uniqueness, and something that just drew my attention. These photographs document a piece of New York counterculture history that has been incredibly important to many artists, musicians, and other creatives.’

'Tony Notarberardino: Chelsea Hotel Portraits, 1994–2010' until 27 April 2024 at
ACA Galleries in New York.

Find more of the best New York art exhibitions to see now.

black and white portrait of Dee Dee Ramone with bare tattooed chest

Tony Notarberardino, Dee Dee Ramone, 1998, of punk band the Ramones

(Image credit: © Tony Notarberardino. Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.