Chelsea, or what one image can do

When I was 16, I first saw Patti Smith’s album “Horses”.

The cover photo of that album changed me: I know instantly I wanted to be a photographer. Here is that one photo, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe of his then girlfriend Patti Smith:

Everything comes together. The light, the high-key shot, the left-right angle, the way we slightly look up at her, her hands, the expression, the coat over her shoulder, the contrast, the greys.

I think I have been in love with Patti ever since. And with photography.

A few years ago I stayed at The Hotel Chelsea in New York, where all this happened. I felt in the presence of greatness, of history… everything happened here. Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan. Andy Warhol. Dylan Thomas. Arthur C. Clarke. The list is long.

Hotel Chelsea, photo by Michael Willems

Hotel Chelsea (Michael Willems)

And the hotel has, um, character:

Hotel Chelsea, photo by Michael Willems

Hotel Chelsea, Reception Desk (Michael Willems)

And art. And a sense of history, and time. I mean… I actually stayed where this was made, the picture that set off my interest in photography: how cool is that?

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe together at the time, by an anonymous photog:

And Patti Smith, by Robert Mapplethorpe, at The Chelsea:

Another beautiful photo.

And finally, one more from me: the view from the hotel – what Patti would have seen if she looked straight ahead:

Chelsea, NYC, view from The Chelsea Hotel (Photo Michael Willems)

View from The Chelsea Hotel (Photo Michael Willems)

I just ordered “Just Kids”, Patti Smith’s autobiography of that time, on Amazon.

Inspired, I continue my day.