Rose Hartman

This month’s West Village Original is photographer Rose Hartman. Her work has been featured in a number of solo books, including “Birds of Paradise” (1980). She is currently at work on a new book and a retrospective of her photos will open on November 4th at FIT Library, where she donated her archives. She also sells her work privately and can be reached at rhartmanphotos@mac.com.

For photographer Rose Hartman, it turned out that a hobby of her father’s would leave a lasting impression. “While my father was a jewelry designer by trade, his hobby was taking pictures,” she recalls. “In fact, most of the photos I have of my family were taken by him. So I think photography was inculcated in me at an early age. I always saw my father with a camera, and I loved him very much.”

Hartman was born on East 9th Street and Avenue C, raised in Queens and went on to major in English at CCNY. It was while teaching at the then very rough Seward Park High School on Delancey Street that she decided to change careers. “As much as I enjoyed teaching, I detested babysitting students,” she says. “I was very frustrated, and my boyfriend kept asking me, ‘What would you enjoy doing?’ I remember saying I would love to take photographs. So I went to a summer workshop at Sun Valley and there I was lucky enough to photograph the wedding of Joan Hemingway, Ernest’s granddaughter. I got the front cover of the Daily News Record and it was a big deal. I got paid, too! So I had found a passion.”

Hartman’s photo of Bianca Jagger at her birthday party, Studio 54, 1977.

Pursuing this passion, Hartman left teaching and went on to chronicle the world of beauty, celebrity and style for more than three decades. One of her favorite haunts was Studio 54 during its heyday. “It was the most fantastic club I’ve ever been to,” Hartman says. “I didn’t go all the time but just enough so that I could mingle and shoot my pictures.” One of these—her shot of Bianca Jagger on a white horse in the club itself—remains an iconic image of that era. Hartman also debunks the myth that her photos were elaborately posed. “They were not,” she says. “There would be a huge crowd of people and I would have to pull out my subject and create an intimate moment. But it was never really intimate. It was a creation. And a lot of people who’ve seen my work don’t believe that. They think I set up my scenarios. But Bianca, who was very beautiful, was on that horse for about one minute before they took her off and led the horse out. I had to act quickly but that photo is the one that defines me.”

What was Hartman’s attraction to the glitter of the jet set? “Well, as a child we walked up six flights of stairs to our apartment,” she says drily. “We’ll start with that. It was also an entrance into a world that was unlike mine. This was a world of billionaires who traveled effortlessly. And I was very attracted to that.” Yet her access to these people did not necessarily translate into friendships. “A lot of the people would be very friendly when I was photographing them, but it never went further,” she says. “So I think that many of my experiences were during the ‘allotted time,’ one might say. In a way, I was providing a service and I have to say I performed unstintingly. I made everyone look gorgeous.”

People now shop instead of going to a gallery or to look at the architecture. They're not involved in the historic nature of this fantastic locale.As a resident of Charles Street since 1963, Hartman has had a front row seat to major change. “The small, local businesses have all been tossed out and the millionaire designers took over each and every shop,” she say. “Marc Jacobs, of course, is the leader of the pack. I said to him, ‘Marc, you know you have changed the neighborhood.’ And he said, ‘In a good or bad way?’ I couldn’t believe he actually asked that! Thanks to these shops, it’s almost impossible to walk on the streets of my neighborhood because it’s so crowded. People now shop instead of going to a gallery or to look at the architecture. They’re not involved in the historic nature of this fantastic locale. I could say the history of the Village is of no interest to these visitors. Of course that’s a generalization, but I think it’s a fair one.”

Does this mean she’s lost her affection for the neighborhood? “Are you kidding?,” she replies. “If it’s a gorgeous late afternoon I will get on my bicycle, ride along the Hudson, watch the sunset and think, ‘My God, this is the most beautiful visual that I can have.’ I still love it here!”

Photo of Rose Hartman by MakotoTakeuchi.

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