I Discoguy got a chance to ask Bill Bernstein, the photographer of the DISCO book, a few questions about his years inside all the legendary New York Clubs of the Disco era. Clubs he has helped make immortal by all his fantastic photographs, some which are featured in this book (above).
First - your book looks fantastic. I love the "closeness" you have captured of these people within your photographs. But tell me;
How and when did you start as a photographer? Was that a hobby that grew into a work?
"I was always into photography as a teenager and throughout college, where I studied graphic design. At some point in my mid twenties I decided to give freelance photography a try, and I never looked back."
Tell me more how you started freelancing...
"In the beginning I was a freelancer for The Village Voice mostly. It was here that I was assigned my first shoot at Studio 54."
Bills first work was actually to cover the birthday party of Lillian Carter, President Carter's mother, which was held at the Studio 54 in 1977. Not a bad first assignment and things just went on from there...
Were you always admitted entrance everywhere or where there clubs where you couldn't get in? What did the club owners think of people taking photos inside their clubs?
"When I really decided to take the disco phenomenon on as a photography project, I got to know the owners and doormen, and they knew me as the photographer from the Village Voice, so there were never any problems getting into the clubs. Photographers where part of the disco scene and people were generally happy to be photographed."
Did you have "full access" to the clubs or were your movements restricted? Could you enter the VIP rooms of '54' or any of the other clubs for example?
"I usually had full access to all of the clubs that I shot althought the VIP room at Studio 54 was off limits to photographers. My prime interest was in capturing the all inclusive regular crowd, not the celebrities, so it wasn't a problem for me."
How were you treated by club goers, owners and celebs?
"I was treated very well by both the club owners and the crowd . There was the feeling of a big party going on and the crowd was there to 'see and be seen'. There were no cellphone cameras then, so having your photo taken was still a novelty. When I approached people they generally assumed I was a journalist working for a newspaper."
How much time did you spend out in the NYC nightlife taking your photos?
"I worked on this photography project of mine for about two years, but most of the images were shot in 1979."
In the book you've got pictures from many of the hottest clubs; Studio 54, Xenon, Paradise Garage and many many others. Which were your own favorite clubs of these?
"I suppose my favorite clubs were Studio 54, because of the extravagance of the club with its light show and Moon & Coke Spoon, and other scenery that dropped down during the night. Also the creativity of the crowd in their dress and openness.
Paradise Garage was a pure 'dancing until dawn' place. No alcohol was served. Only juice and fruit. But the smell of poppers and grass was always present.
My other favorite place was GG's Barnum Room. This was a transgender persons haven with an acrobatic act going on above the dance floor.
The discos all had their own unique special 'flavor' to them, but they they were all the same as they were places to go to get lost in the music, the drugs and mix with an all inclusive crowd."
All pictures © Bill Bernstein / Reel Art Press