Forget the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the twin towers. These faces are the real monuments of the evanescent time, the wonders of our world and the glories of our landscape. These were the stars in our local firmament, the glittering bodies that twinkled in the night, whose mysterious movements predicted our fates and our fortunes, and whose double-ended candle flicker illuminated our imaginations and ignited our desires.
You never saw most of them? You missed something special. And it’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. Today there is no excuse for beauty to be missed. They are in your face, on the global broadcast. Scouts scour backstreets for the tracks of grace, for hints of charm, traces of refinement. Publicity enshrouds the planet with images non-stop. Nothing is held back. But back then there were secrets and mysteries. There was a private world, membership only. It was exclusively anonymous, hiding out invisible in plain sight. There were certain initiations and a certain price. You had to find it; it didn’t advertise. You needed a certain sense, a sixth or a seventh to enter this small world, but once inside it opened up like a hall of mirrors. If you could follow the clues and your instinct there it was–an unknown galaxy of magnetic beauty.
“They were shot on our roof on the east side near the water tower. I had ample wardrobe and I stood as a girl scout, make up artist, stylist and assistant. When you look at the C-prints its like looking in a mirror.”—Maripol
In Edo’s pictures it’s always dusk, or is it dawn? We always saw both. Trying to rise before dusk and beating a retreat home at dawn, trying to sleep before the birds drove us mad with their disgustingly happy chatter. But here the right light is always fleeting, a small window between darkness and brightness where the beautiful face outshines the sun and moon, and the personality seems to be its own source of light.
Here’s the all-star team of the age: ingénues and leading ladies, starlets and strumpets, muses and genies, tarts and temptresses, divas and desperadoes, seductresses, teasers and torturers, vamps and tramps. All of them true personalities with style that ran deep. They were their own creators, their own stylists and their own designers. They didn’t buy a look or borrow one from a couturier, they conjured glamour out of thrift shops and thin air.
These pictures make me miss makeup. Nothing looks naturalistic about this paint. They weren’t going for healthy, outdoorsy looks but something between a geisha and an houri, a Bourdin mannequin and a Maori. Their faces weren’t art’s brave remake of nature. What did Gloria Swanson say in Sunset Boulevard? “We had faces then.” Look how different these are. No model agency composite here. These are the calendar girls of the last judgment. The Miss America candidates of the Lost Continent of Atlantis. I feel privileges to have known them and chased them, to have flirted and laugh and gotten high with them, and slept with them perchance to dream. What dreams they had. I wish dreaming would bring some of them back, just as they were, better than perfect and full of promises that they kept but the world broke.
Edo’s roof was no penthouse. It was a New York tar beach with an overview of downtown when it rocked and staggered. It was a roof for posing on or jumping off of, but it was mostly an open-air studio that captured the way we were for an eternal instant.
The late Glenn O’Brien remembered the atmosphere in 1980 New York, ever present in the timeless beauty of Edo Bertoglio’s photographs, for Document Journal’s Spring/Summer 2013 issue.