rebel with a cause

Legendary photographer Rose Hartman wasn’t just documenting the wild times of Studio 54, she was part of them
By Clementine Zawadzki | 10 February 2022

‘Mick & Bianca Jagger Kissing at Studio 54, 1977’ by Rose Harman, 1937

Rose Hartman is the original rebel photographer. In an era where people dared to wear and dared to do, Rose dared to be in the right place at the right time to capture it all on camera. Before Rose, photographers in celebrity circles and the fashion world didn’t see the value in those behind-the-scenes shots we treasure today. We have Rose to thank for making getting ready glamorous and perfectly capturing those imperfect moments. 84-years-young, Rose is as timeless as her imagery. When male photographers were turning up to galas in worn, torn jeans, she was mistaken for the guest list because she’s just that fabulous.

She’s made a living and – more importantly – made her mark by being patient enough to wait for the moment to present itself, and fast enough to make sure she didn’t miss it. A New Yorker through and through, Rose has been led by her impulse and instinct to capture and create her whole life. Without Rose, we wouldn’t have vivid imagery of the moments in time we look towards to define an era, from the iconic image of Bianca Jagger on a white stallion at Studio 54 to the party photos and runway shots of the 90s Supermodel age. The colour, the style, and the sentiment of her photos all leap off the page with personality, just like Rose. Currently, the photographer’s defining work is being celebrated at an exhibition at TW Fine Art’s Palm Beach Outpost, Florida, titled Rose Hartman: Femme Fatale. A retrospective of four decades of music, fashion, and memories, Rose’s distinctive lens is like a time machine, and while you’re in the presence of her images, it’s like you’re part of the party, on the streets, mingling with the best of them.


Clementine Zawadzki: You’re known for your celebrity portraits, but your photographs are so honest and of the moment. In what ways did those instincts develop over time?
Rose Hartman: Oh my god. I don’t know if I would use the word ‘learn’, but you do pay more attention. Also, I have a great passion, and I think that’s what comes across when you look at the images. You never see anyone looking unpleasant, unhappy, miserable, or uncomfortable. I never ever shoot subjects looking like that. I’ve been doing this over 40 years, so I kind of know when to take the shot. I might only take two shots at most, but you cannot say to me, “Get me ten more of Naomi and Cindy,” I can’t. First of all, they don’t continue to stand there, and second of all, I’m not telling them to stand there, or to look at me, or whatever. I have to be very quick and I have been very quick. I think that’s the key. It’s about knowing when to take the shot.

CZ: Where does your tenacity come from, because New York is a tough city and you’re in a tough industry?
RH: Believe me, I was born here. I didn’t come from some little town in the Midwest. I was actually born on 9th street; I’ve always been in the heart of the city – I love the city. It’s just my personality. If I want something, then I’m going to put my best in getting it.

‘Kate Moss in a Marc Jacobs Fashion Show’ by Rose Hartman, 1937

“A lot of the male photographers would show up in dirty old jeans, it was just horrible… to Black Tie events!”

CZ: Your first photography assignment was shooting Joan Hemingway and Jean De Noyeter’s 1976 wedding – what was it about that event that got you hooked on photography?
RH: Well, quite frankly, I had been a high school English teacher, so that’s what I was doing in the daytime. Then, I was going to Sun Valley, Idaho, to take a workshop, and  the editor of DNR – which was a fashion newspaper devoted to men’s fashion because her husband had owned a very beautiful boutique of men’s clothes, so he was very well known in that world – found out she said, “Well, if you’re going to be in that area, then we want you to take the photos of the wedding.” It was so crazy! I just went, “Oh ok, sounds good.” Once I was there, I was invited to all these things like the engagement, the barbeque… all of the events around the beautiful wedding itself. I was there and I loved it so much.

CZ: You took your camera where no one else wanted to. What drew you to go behind the curtain, both at the shows themselves, but also fashion houses?
RH: I was just very moved by being able to see the models taking their clothing, getting ready, becoming hothouse flowers. I didn’t have a discussion with anybody. I had a big photo agency, but they never told me what to do, I did whatever I wanted to. If I didn’t want to cover an event, I didn’t cover it.

CZ: How would you differentiate fashion and style?
RH: Quoting Diana Vreeland, style is where you wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. You either have it or you don’t. Fashion is something you buy, and if you’re a wealthy woman of course you can buy couture clothes…boom! That’s a different story, you’re able to purchase clothing or you have a stylist that helps you. But I think style is something that seriously you are born with.

“I was just very moved by being able to see the models taking their clothing, getting ready, becoming hothouse flowers.”

CZ: Of all the photographs you’ve taken, which is your favourite?
RH: Bianca Jagger on the white horse! It was unexpected. I had no information that she was going be on that horse. For about two minutes or less, she just jumped on it, but she wasn’t supposed to. There was a blonde Lady Godiva, with long golden hair and body paint all over her. Studio 54 was just magic. It had been a CBS Studio, so they had this amazing sound system, and you just heard that music and you were so excited immediately, that was it. It just hit you, it enveloped you.

CZ: That sense of excitement and enjoyment really comes through your photographs…
RH: Yes, it was about having fun, but also always being aware of who was next to you. That was very important. For example, Diane von Furstenberg was throwing her hands up in the air next to Barry Diller, so firstly I had to see that, then photograph it very quickly, because she wasn’t going to sit with her hands up in the air.

CZ: Did you ever have to get creative to get the photograph?
RH: I would’ve been invited by the public relations people and my name would be on the door of let’s say some gala, but when I went to check in they would think I was a guest, and they would look on the guest list, and I would have to say, “No, no, no, I’m on the press list.” That happened very frequently because I would dress very nicely, not to attract attention, but to fit into the environment. A lot of the male photographers would show up in dirty old jeans, it was just horrible… to Black Tie events! They just didn’t care at all, I didn’t like that, and I did my best so I could do my work easily. I call myself a fly on the wall, but generally speaking, I knew all the publicists and they used to see my photos all the time, so they would come up and invite me because they knew I would always take flattering pictures.

‘Basquiat in Front of His Painting’ by Rose Hartman, 1937

CZ: Is there a moment you were in the right place at the right time, but you didn’t have your camera on you?
RH: Oh yes! That’s very funny you say that. So I was crossing the street in Manhattan on 52nd street, and Greta Garbo was alive at the time, and she was standing next to me. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have my camera! She had a huge umbrella and she lowered it across her face so she couldn’t be seen, but I knew who it was, and I knew she lived like half a block from where we were standing. That’s one example  I have never forgotten where I was without my camera.

CZ: Did you have any idea at the time how important your photos would become in documenting an era?
RH: I never thought about that. I just thought, “I’m a lucky woman.” I was invited to this marvelous event, the Versace fashion show with Linda Evangelista. After the show, there was a party in the space, and Linda was carrying a blue balloon. For my book cover Incomparable Women of Style, I thought I could write those words in the balloon and use that fabulous shot of her, because she happened to turn around and look in my direction. I have no idea why, because I wasn’t speaking to her. You might say those were some lucky moments. I had to very much be on my toes. It was hard work; it wasn’t easy work to do. It was very exhausting actually. Because also, I never wanted to be told where I should stand, I would just walk around until I saw something, like Andy Warhol talking to Lou Reed, and I said to myself, “Wow, that’s a great moment.” I never thought about the future. That was not my personality.

CZ: What pushed your craft at the time?
RH: Well it wasn’t my peers, because Cher wasn’t my peer, but she would be entering the Metropolitan Museum gala with Bob Mackie the designer, she was his muse – I knew all of that. She was wearing something incredible that he had designed, so one; I knew that she was world-famous, two; I know that she was stunning, and I have to be aesthetically attracted to my subjects. That particular image, she was wearing a magnificent gown, and then I took the picture, that’s how it worked.

CZ: What catches your eye?
RH: First of all, I’m a little smart. I know the people in the room, it’s not like they’re strangers to me. I could photograph Naomi Campbell who could be standing next to another model, maybe Christy Turlington or Cindy Crawford, so of course I know who they are. All the Supermodels were great friends, and I would take the picture. I wouldn’t have a chat with them and say, “I know you’re fabulous,” I’d just take the picture. Nobody ever complained.

Rose Hartman: Femme Fatale runs at TW Fine Art until 12th February.

‘A stylish Warhol at Studio 54’ by Rose Hartman, 1937

‘Kate Moss in a Galliano Gown’ by Rose Hartman, 1996

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