Look Who’s Talkin’

In the (mostly) good old days, being a social photographer and going to benefits and parties like the ones shown here, was much more fun and interesting. There were many fewer photographers covering New York “society” and, as I was lucky enough to cover parties for prestigious publications like Vogue, The New York Times, WWD and Town & Country, I was one of the few granted almost unlimited inside access to the best events in town. Often only Bill Cunningham and I were invited inside. Also in those days, most partygoers were wearing their own clothes and went out to support their charities, of course, but also congregate with their friends. Although the guests were usually aware of Bill and me, they went about enjoying the party without much of an eye on us. So we were able to discreetly take candid unposed photos. I was often told “I didn’t even know you were there,” a great compliment to me. 

Carolina Herrera and Barry Diller at Mortimer’s. (Photos by Mary Hilliard)

Things changed when corporate sponsorship became usual. Of course, much more money was raised, but the sponsors wanted more publicity, which meant more celebrities, more photographers, more self conscious posing, hand on hip, in borrowed clothes.

Lee Radziwill, Giorgio Armani, and Barbara Streisand, 1993.

Looking at these pictures makes me smile, remembering beautiful, glamorous, and funny moments in my career. Today, thinking about our world and walking on Madison Avenue, the windows of  elaborate ball gowns and  jewel studded 4” stilettos seem somehow beside the point. I can’t imagine what “society” will be like in the future. But, to borrow a phrase, I am glad I was there, in the rooms where it happened!

Carolyne Roehm at the “7th on Sale” benefit, 1995.
Gianni Versace, David Bowie and Iman at the Costume Institute Gala, 2003.
Casey Ribicoff and Liz Rohatyn at the New York Public Library, 1997.
Gianni Versace, David Bowie and Iman at the Costume Institute Gala, 2003.
Gossip at Mortimer’s with Bob Colacello, 1989.
Princess Diana at the Super Sale Gala at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., 1996.
JFK, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, 1996.
Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, and James Truman, 1995.