The Rooms They Left Behind

Reno’s mother began building the family home, near the Florida Everglades, in 1949, long before Miami’s suburban sprawl crept into the area. Reno moved here at age 14, and — apart from stints in Tallahassee and as U.S. Attorney General — lived here for the rest of her life. The bed and other antiques once belonged to her maternal grandparents. ‘‘I don’t know how old they are,’’ says her sister, Maggy Hurchalla, ‘‘but I’ve known them for as long as I remember, and I just turned 76.’’Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times


The Lives They Lived


Across the length of 2016, the photographer Mitch Epstein — known for making careful large-format images that draw rich meaning out of places and objects — arranged to visit the living and working spaces of some of the monumental figures we lost this year. The goal was to arrive not long after each person’s death, in those days when a person’s spirit can still seem palpable somewhere among their rooms and their things — as in his photograph of the writer Jim Harrison’s studio, where the items on a bedside table seem as if they were set down only moments ago.

As he took in each space and created these subtle, multilayered photographs, Epstein was especially struck by the number of rooms that felt like places of freedom, with each figure creating his or her own unique interior world. “They’re not just spaces,” he says. “They’re actually sanctuaries. That’s the word that comes to mind.” TEXT BY NITSUH ABEBE

Marisol’s sculpture, with its Pop Art vibrancy and folk-art intimacy, made her a one-name celebrity in the 1960s art world, and she purchased her TriBeCa loft and studio in 1979, before the neighborhood’s rapid redevelopment. With shades drawn, the stillness of this sitting area now stands in contrast to the bustle and gleam outside. In the center is a flat file for smaller drawings; at left, a preliminary drawing for the 1989 sculpture ‘‘John, Washington and Emily Roebling Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge for the First Time.’’ Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times

‘He also had an upright bicycle out there,’’ says Shandling’s friend Bruce Grayson of this nook in the comedian’s Brentwood home. But Shandling’s great love was boxing: He co-owned a gym in Santa Monica and sparred, when in good health, multiple times a week. In interviews, he’d compare the sport to his career in comedy. ‘‘It’s getting over that fear,’’ Grayson says. ‘‘He used to make that metaphor all the time — boxing taught him how to bob and weave onstage, to be agile and not get back on his heels.’’’ Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times


After a stroke in 2009, the self-taught artist began working in the back of Dial Metal Patterns of Bessemer, Ala., a fabrication company owned by two of his sons. Dial, who grew up in the Depression-era South, spent much of his adult life laboring in factories and used industrial materials and other castoffs in many of his artworks. When his sons first opened the studio after Dial’s death, unfinished work still hung under fluorescent lights on one of the pressed-wood walls.Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times
‘‘Jim liked naps,’’ says Joyce Harrington Bahle, who assisted the celebrated writer for 37 years — hence the bed in the small writing studio he kept behind his Montana home. On one wall hangs ‘‘A Correlated History of Earth,’’ charting the planet’s development over 4.5 billion years; on another, a painting, by Harrison’s friend Jill Eggers, of a thicket. Bahle says Harrison always saw thickets as places of refuge. Outside, looking out toward the Absaroka mountains, is the solitary bench where he liked to begin each workday.Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times
It was some months after the musician’s death that this photo was taken, in the Galaxy Room of his Paisley Park Studios — a lounge space attached to the studio’s production facilities. The astronomical images are painted on the walls and lit by blacklights in the ceiling fixtures; throughout the studio space are copious candles, incense burners and other mood-setting flourishes.Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times
B. 1958 PRINCE
Wiesel’s home study in Manhattan is packed with plenty of mundane, familiar needs — books and files, staplers and tape dispensers, papers and pens — but here, the eye is drawn to a sacred object: Wiesel’s personal Torah scroll, housed in its own bookshelf cabinet.Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Time
‘‘I always felt when I was visiting that I was getting to hang out with Edward and be in this great museum at the same time,’’ says Sam Rudy, Albee’s longtime friend and publicist. The playwright was a passionate collector of art, and filled his Manhattan loft with countless pieces — like Walt Kuhn’s ‘‘Helen’’ (1929), the striking portrait seen here. This nook was where Albee read and took phone calls; Rudy also recalls arriving for appointments and finding the ‘‘notoriously punctual’’ writer on his worn leather chair, jacket draped over one knee, ‘‘in full waiting mode.’’ ‘‘There was always tremendous still and quiet and calm in the loft,’’ he says, “except when there was a party. It was not unlike a museum in that regard.’’Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times
The historian and anthropologist — one of the last living people to have spoken with anyone present before the Battle of the Little Bighorn — kept a second office in the garage of his home on the Crow Indian Reservation. The items and archives inside track both the history of the Crow Tribe of Montana and the life of Medicine Crow himself. Portraits on the left depict Crow warriors and leaders, including Bull Chief, Medicine Crow’s great-grandfather, believed to have been born in 1825. A single bare bulb hangs over the desk.Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times
The Connecticut home where Wilder spent the last decades of his life was owned first by his third wife, Gilda Radner, who left it to him after her death. He and his next wife, Karen B. Wilder, made many renovations, including some whimsical designs in the garden. This past May, as Wilder struggled with Alzheimer’s disease, a tree sculptor was invited to leave this portrait on the grounds, working in concert with the actor himself. ‘‘Really,’’ his widow says, ‘‘it was the last artistic collaboration of his life.’’Credit Mitch Epstein for The New York Times

Mitch Epstein is a fine-art photographer based in New York City. His forthcoming book, “Rocks and Clouds,” will be published by Steidl in the spring.




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