Inside the Chelsea Hotel
The series of photographs titled Inside the Chelsea Hotel reflects the energy of a place occupied by ghosts of past lives. More than portraying the residents of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, Julia Calfee’s photography is her personal concept of humanity; not only a quest for freedom of expression but also a search for the ultimate creative refuge.
"You got the vibration of the place and also captured the experience of these strange characters. There’s such feeling in these pictures. There’s love, there’s weirdness, there’s loneliness; the whole human experience plays out in this hotel, the whole spectrum of humanity, the highs and the lows. You don’t have to run around the world to capture humanity, you’ve captured it here and all you have to do is take the elevator. The people, they become art in your pictures. It not only presents a certain point of view, this certain time at the Chelsea Hotel, but also the immortality of the place. It’s like Bob Dylan is still living here" as eloquently expressed by photographer Antonin Kratochvil.
Julia Calfee’s photography celebrate the freedom of a place where excess is welcome, where the psyche can be annihilated or resurrected. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, Stanley Kubrick, Mark Twain, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and countless others have been drawn Inside the Chelsea Hotel by a seemingly irresistible magnetic force.
Julia Calfee - artist using photography and writing as her medium - has spent most of her professional life living and working in Europe and Asia. She majored art history at the Sorbonne in Paris. Her first book on the subject of artists and their studios was published by Miro Foundation in 1995.
In 2003, the book Spirits and Ghosts: Journeys Through Mongolia was published by PowerHouse Books, New York. This book explores the transitions and changes in Mongolia since 1996, touching upon the obstinate ritual and beliefs of this country still steeped in the murkiness of the post-Communist era.
From 1996 to 2002, she focused on Mongolia, where she led a caravan to bring medicine to remote areas. During this time she also documented life in Mongolian prisons for a relief organization, and photographed the blight of poverty in Ulan Bator.
From 2003 until 2008 Julia Calfee has been living mainly in New York City's Hotel Chelsea, where she documented the state of mind that has existed in that unique place - the legendary residence for artists, writers and musicians. The years she spent in the Chelsea Hotel were a visual quest for the unifying elements of the people who chose to live in this place and the ghosts who still lurk in its shadwos.
As she describes it: “When I photographed at the Chelsea Hotel, I would stay in a space or situation for hours. Time would pass and my presence would become less and less visible. Sometimes I would even disappear.”
This long term project has become a well acclaimed book published by powerHouse Books New York in 2008. The Chelsea Hotel has now been sold and is no longer an aboad for artists or wanna-be artists. Julia Calfee’s book inside Inside the Chelsea Hotel is now to be considered the reference book.
As she herself says: “The Chelsea Hotel is a place where excess is welcome, where the psyche can be annihilated or resurrected. It has a magical potential for transformation, whether it be rebirth or destruction. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix, William S. Burroughs, Stanley Kubrick, Mark Twain, Edith Piaf, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jasper Johns, Jack Kerouac, Willem de Kooning, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and countless others have been drawn Inside the Chelsea Hotel by a seemingly irresistible magnetic force.”
Julia Calfee’s book Inside the Chelsea Hotel consists of 81 black and white photos on double page as well as very short stories about the residents and athomsphere of the hotel. There’s also an introduction by Milos Forman, film director (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt).
Her project "The Last Songs of the Glaciers" on global warming with recordings and close-up photography of melting ice was exhibited during the Art Basel Fair 2010 and at "The Verbier Green Pioneering Summit" (VGPS) 2010.
Two significant film documentaries were produced on her project ‘Vanishing Glaciers’, the first by Swiss Television and the second for the Copenhagen Summit. ‘Vanishing Glaciers’ was also presented in March 2012 at the Explorer‘s Club, where she is a fellow member.
Her ongoing projects are titled “Messages From Another World, Bali” and “Sacred Fires and Other Places in India”
.Her most recent exhibition titled INSIDE THE CHELSEA HOTEL runs at the Art Plural Gallery in Singapore from 12th September through 12th October 2012 with Large Format Photographs and Multimedia Installations documenting the state of mind that has existed in that unique place In New York City - the legendary residence for artists, writers and musicians.
“Julia Calfee's work is a homage to the creativity, eccentricity and talent of the souls who suffered, loved and bled for their art. Julia Calfee is immensely inspiring and we are very proud to distil her artistic sensibility to the Singapore's art scene”, comments Frédéric de Senarclens, CEO of Art Plural Gallery.
Julia Calfee's photographic work has been published in the following magazines, newspapers and television programs:
Inside The Chelsea Hotel - September 2012
Art Daily Read article
Asia Tatler Singapore Read article
The Honeycombers Read article
Channel News Asia - AM Live! (The television) - 11th of September 8.45 am Watch the interview
Plussixfive Read article
The Urban Wire Read article Today Newspaper Read article
Art in Asia
The Straits Times Newspaper
Singapore Art Gallery Guide
Find Your Way in Singapore Watch interview
Female Magazine Read article
Time Out (Singapore)
Other recent articles from 2006-2012 on various subjects
New York Times Magazine
The London Sunday Times
Corriere della Sera
Conde Nast traveler
INSIDE, THE CHELSEA HOTEL PHOTOGRAPHED BY JULIA CALFEE
Spirits and Ghosts: Journeys Through MongoliaPhotographs by Julia Calfee
Published by powerHouse Books New York
76 large format photos, format 12" x 9"
"These journeys in Mongolia took me 9,000 miles over five years. The common element in all these voyages, even stronger that the ghosts, were the spirits who live high and free with this land where nature still brings mortals to their knees."
- Julia Calfee
"Julia Calfee reveals the supernatural and Shamans who bridge the void between the worlds of the living and that of the spirits...These landscapes move you to imagine this, and that the Monkh Khoh Tenger (Eternal Blue Heaven), which once reigned over earth protecting the Mongol people, is hearing their wishes and receiving their communions"
- Antonin Kratochvil
Spirits And Ghosts: Journeys Through Mongolia
delves into the transitions and changes in Mongolia since 1996, addressing the issues and problems of this country still steeped in the murkiness of the post-Communist era, and awkwardly adapting to a new democratic system.
Calfee documented the role of shamanism and ritual in this mysterious land, participating in the winter migration of a female shaman and her family over the mountains, sleeping on ice-covered fields at -40 degrees C, and taking photographs of her private seances, rarely seen by anyone outside of this exclusive nomadic culture.
Calfee also spent years documenting the social ills of this little-understood East-Central Asian republic, spending days and nights in different prisons with adolescents, women, alcoholics, murderers, and many innocent people.
Whether exploring the work camps that have not changed since Stalin's time, makeshift strip-mining conditions, rampant alcoholism, or the general hopelessness of urban life in the capital, Calfee's unflinching and haunting images leave a strong sense of correspondence between social problems and the dark spirituality of this troubled land.
"Although spirits and ghost are reality in Mongolia, they are nevertheless the object of a wealth of speculation and open to differing interpretations - a fact that makes the title of Julia Calfee's book on Mongolia particularly appropriate"
- Dr. Sendenjav Dulam, National University of Mongolia
The book is available at fine booksellers and cultural centers worldwide, including
The Rubin Museum New York City
ICP International Center of Photography New York
Barnes & Noble
Honeycomb GlacierPublication of recent works includes photos and essay titled Honeycomb Glacier in Stone and Water series published by Hotel Therme, Vals Switzerland.
This publication is part of an ongoing multimedia project titled Songs of the Glaciers which includes a sound library of over five hundreds recordings and more than a thousand photos.
"All this summer and fall 2008 I walked up and down and up again the valley of Vals. I followed the trails of the universe as I followed also the mountain ranges experiencing the strings of the cold winds, and the softness of the first falling snow, a complete metamorphosis of nature, ever-changing like the trillions of atoms which make up our atmosphere…"
Mountain Spirits of MongoliaJourney with a Shaman
This book illustrates the annual transhumance of a family of reindeer herders including a woman Shaman from where the borders of Siberia touch the northernmost tip of Mongolia to their summer grazing grounds further south, near Lake Hovsgol ("Dark Blue Pearl"). This three-week journey over rugged, isolated mountains with summits above 3,000 meters (9,000 feet), without the maps or compass, takes place in February and March, the coldest months of the year, when the average temperature drops to a chilling -40°. This small caravan comprise 29 reindeer, 35 horses, 3 dogs, an extended family of eight and myself, as a photographer and only person not living the life of a traditional reindeer herder.
Inside ChinaPublished by National Geographic in 2007
A collective body of work featuring a selection of Julia Calfee photos in China
We are all scavengers shifting through the garbage dump, waiting for the trucks to empty the leftovers of the world, hunting for some forgotten treasure we can call our own. Our garbage dumps are disguised, but in the municipal dump of Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia it is all out in the open. Accumulating in the 105 degrees humid heat are hills and hills of trash. This mass of rejects ferments and strange gases bubble up, mixing with the juices of discarded meant and rotten tropical fruit. These gently shaped hills, covering perhaps 10 square miles, are inhabited by people from faraway places. Illegal refugees in Malaysia who have made this dump their home. Furnished on the spot – a sofa with the springs popping up, a radio which doesn’t work, a bent parasol, a folding chair, some kid’s leftover- stuffed pink elephant. Sunday they go fishing on a huge chunk of Styrofoam in a lake, filled constantly by the sewers of Kuala Lumpur. Sometimes they wash themselves and their clothes in the sewer lake as well. On a bad day the police come and they flee their shelters deep into the highest hills of garbage where the stench is over whelming, the flies thick and the ooze up to their thighs.
Day after day I come back sliding around in this sea of debris with my camera. I am greeted with smiles, asked to sit down on a folding chair and shown the finds of the day. A small ring with no stone left, an imitation Chanel bag, shoes, even a watch, newspapers, wrapping paper, piles of paper of all sorts, piously washed sheet by sheet to be ‘recycled’ elsewhere. Meanwhile the skyscrapers under construction grow taller. Under these growing shadows they explain: “We are the saviors of the world. We are the finders of what is precious before all is buried. We are the ultimate archivists.”
On my last evening there the lights were already on in the city, everything else was white and grey in the evening mist. The excitement of finding treasures had died down as the garbage trucks headed slowly down the hill. The foreman came up to me. “Thank you. For you have given these people importance. No one has ever come here before to photograph them. Now they are proud.” Shortly afterwards the police came. The scavengers fled silently into the grey mist; I also fled.
The dump is no longer there I have heard, the hills are now flattened by expensive apartment buildings and grass covered courtyards. Mercedes drive up the asphalt roads.
The scavengers have been replaced.- Julia Calfee
Photogeneses, TetesPhotos by Julia Calfee
Published by Pilar i Joan Miro Foundation
Palma de Mallorca, 1995
Format: 25' x 16'5"
A deluxe portfolio in a limited edition of only 25 copies, signed and numbered by the artist, containing 7 color plates printed in cibachrome on aluminum, presented in its hand bound clamshell box.
With an introduction from Spanish writer Jose Carlos Llop and Spanish painter Antonio Saura.