In its own right, photography is a fascinating journey into the realm of reality, myth, and creativity. However, no one taps into this idea better than iconic photographer Rose Hartman. An expert in her field, Hartman has had her photos published in Glamour, Art & Auction, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and many other publications, and has captured the likes of royalty, fashionistas, supermodels, debutantes, celebrities, designers, artists, and more in her lens.
There is a documentary film about Hartman’s legendary photography, her unique style, and her untouchable talent, which spans nearly four decades. She is also the author of three books that chronicle her extraordinary work and provide a peek into the intimate mindset of others as she skillfully captures moments of vulnerability with her camera lens. Hartman’s intuitive magic is in knowing just when to snap the photo.
How did a New York born and bred girl (who began her career as an English teacher) go on to become one of the most well-known female photographers of our time in a world dominated by male photographers? Hartman photographed everyone from the girl next door and the guy across the street to the top couture runway show, the princess, the celebrity in the club, and the actress in her essence.
I had the opportunity to speak with Hartman about her career path, the iconic people she had the opportunity to photograph, and her tips for capturing priceless moments.
You do not photograph like other photographers, Rose. How do you capture that unique and natural moment you are known for?
I like to capture the best of a person. I don’t take my camera out when someone is sitting at a dinner table. I wait until the moment is right … the moment when the subject, person, or people are at their best, unaware that the camera is looking … a moment when I am able to capture their natural essence.
I do not like taking directed photos; I like natural. Two great examples are Jacqueline Onassis and Kate Moss. I photographed Jackie Onassis while she was simply sitting on an old-fashioned, wooden student’s desk, her dress off her shoulder. We caught each other’s eye, and I snapped the photo at that exact moment. We were at a benefit for the Louis Falco Dance Company, held in Soho, New York, in 1981.
The other photo is of Kate Moss during Fashion Week in Bryant Park in 1995. She was still in her teens and as beautiful as ever. I captured her angelic look after the show. Unlike many photographers, I only take one or two photos of each picture I shoot. I am pretty good at getting the essence I want in those two takes. I like to capture real moments, not fake pasted-on-smiles looking into my camera. That’s boring to me!
What motivates you? Can you define a moment when you felt compelled to take a photo?
Attraction to the subject motivates me. I like to catch intimate moments among people who have a public persona. Fake is not appealing. [Instead, I prefer] someone who is in his or her natural essence. To give an example, I was in a room once with Lauren Hutton. She was wearing a simple white t-shirt and jeans, yet the way she wore those clothes made her stand out. She had presence. It was her confidence and natural image that came through. I can pick them out in a room, the people who naturally stand out. Paloma Picasso also comes to mind. Simply lovely!
Rumor has it that on May 2, 1977, you were one of the 140 people or so who attended a party at Studio 54 given by fashion designer Halston for Bianca Jagger’s 30th birthday. That evening, you took the legendary photo of Bianca on a white horse being led across the nightclub floor. How do you remember that evening? I hear someone looking like Lady Godiva brought the white horse on the main floor. What happened then?
At that moment, Bianca was guided onto the horse and I took the photo as she was looking around. The evening was wonderful.
Can you tell us more about the very well-known and eye-catching photo of Mick and Bianca Jagger kissing like they were in the bedroom? You caught this intimate moment in a flash.
Funny you mention that. Many people think they were kissing and kissing, yet that kiss only lasted a few seconds. The photo was taken at that same birthday party at Studio 54, and it was just for a second that Mick leaned over and kissed her on the lips. The kiss wasn’t long, but long enough for me to take the photo at the right moment.
Do you need to feel a connection with the subject or person you are photographing?
I feel a connection only for that moment in time, not far in the future. However, there are some subjects or people with whom I do have an ongoing connection.
How does it feel to know thousands are admiring your work at The Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center, Pucci Gallery, and The Ravestijn Gallery. You are everywhere!
I would have to say one of my favorites was the exhibit at the solo show they had of my work at The Ravestijn Gallery in Amsterdam. And what can I say, I am honored that my work is featured all over. I want to be remembered for my talent.
I know you mentioned your most memorable evening at Studio 54 was at Valentino’s carnival-themed party. History has it that some of the costumes worn that evening were from Fellini’s movie “The Clowns.” There was apparently “circus acts galore.” What was most memorable about that evening?
I would have to say it was when Valentino stood in the center of the room dressed as the ringmaster. The atmosphere that evening was simply spectacular. Vibrant colors and people everywhere. Fun party!
Tell us about the inspiration behind each of your books: “Birds of Paradise,” which taps into the fashion arena, published in 1980; “Incomparable Women of Style,” which portrays the beauty and essence of iconic females from all walks of life, published in 2012; and “Incomparable Couples,” which captures beauty and style among couples, published in 2015.
“Birds of Paradise” came from being interested and mesmerized with the happenings behind the scenes in the fashion world. I was always intrigued with how the makeup artists, hairstylists, and designers put a show together, and I documented those the moments through my camera. The energy and creation was spectacular!
“Incomparable Women of Style” came about when I wanted to share the unique style of women. There are various photos in the book that capture everything from street style to high-end couture. Everything from vintage prints to never-before-published photos.
“Incomparable Couples” came about because of my intrigue with capturing people together. I would sometimes say something to them to get a certain expression, but I would never say “look at me.” I want natural.
I can’t wait to hear more about your documentary, “The Incomparable Rose Hartman.” Can you share your experience so far with the coming of age of this documentary?
What can I say—I love the idea of my legacy being filmed for all to remember! The experience has been fabulous. I was first approached about the idea at a private event where I was talking about my work. Sally [Antonacchino, an executive producer] and Otis [Mass, the director] approached me and asked if I would like to go to lunch to discuss the project. The rest is history.
What advice can you give others who want to pursue a career in photography?
Know your subject. Pick something that interests you and focus on becoming an expert. Don’t take thousands of photos of thousands of people, places, and things. Focus on the object that interests you, and become a pro at photographing that. Produce great photos!
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want them to be mesmerized by my work and my photos, and I want them to think like you do when you said, “You do not photograph like other photographers, Rose.”
By Lori Snyder