In the late 1970s, New York newspaper The Village Voice sent photographer Bill Bernstein on an assignment to Studio 54 to photograph an awards presentation dinner for the then president’s mother, Lillian Carter. As this sedate affair drew to a close, club regulars rolled in and Bernstein quickly realised this was the real story. He bought 10 rolls of film from another snapper and settled in for the night.
This isn’t just another book about Studio 54. Yes, there are tantalising close-ups of Warhol, Jagger and the like, but you’ll find many more of nameless dancers, posers and voguish voyeurs in this collection of — very often previously unpublished — photos.
Bitten by the disco bug, Bernstein spent the next three years capturing images at New York’s clubs he felt recalled a pre-war Berlin cabaret. At many of them, trapeze artists and roller skaters rubbed shoulders with everyone from Wall Street stockbrokers to drag acts — before it all came to an abrupt end in 1980, at least in NY, with AIDS, the IRS closing down Studio 54 and a punk backlash. Some of the photos — taken from an archive of 420 rolls of film left untouched for 35 years — will be exhibited at the Serena Morton Gallery in London this month.
Disco: The Bill Bernstein Exhibition, 3 December 2015 – 24 January 2016. serenamorton.com
Disco, the Bill Bernstein Photographs. RRP: £40 (Reel Art Press)
Published in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)