Hotel Chelsea, Photographs by Victoria Cohen, Pointed Leaf Press. Part 2, by Ron Steinman
No people are in any of the photos. There is no hint or identification of who lived in each room. Each photo has only a number. That number gives no indication of the room’s occupant. There are no notes about who lived in each room. Putting a room to a face or a face to a room would possibly help us understand what attracted the many creative artists who once lived in the Hotel Chelsea. I am sure that Victoria Cohen, the photographer, knows who lived where but because she keeps that secret, it adds to the mystery and allows our imagination to thrive. It makes each photo more intriguing. That is part of the fun and challenge of the book. The possibilities are endless.
Cohen used only natural lighting and a hand-held camera. I am sure she held her breath a long time to get the exact exposure she desired. The rooms as photographed are as if each is on a display in a middle class furniture store, in an old-fashioned home-style magazine, or in an advertisement on early TV. As such, we view each photo waiting for someone to sit in an easy chair or lie on the bed. The rooms bring to mind those one might find in a small town where travelers and salespersons stop for a short stay. The rooms, as photographed, are pristine and neat, with nothing out of place. For me, that is a veil to make us want to believe that is what the room looked like before a famous or glittering name occupied the space. These photos feel as if we are looking at a painting rather than a carefully composed photo rich in color. I can almost hear voices but no, each room remains strangely silent.