Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs

The BILL BERNSTEIN Photographs

Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs
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Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs
[Reel Art Press]

Bill Bernstein was sent to the legendary Studio 54 by the Village Voice in order to cover President Carter's mothers' birthday party. From that moment on he became one of the few photographers who captured the Disco scene live as it happened in all of the hottest New York clubs like; Paradise Garage, Xenon, the Funhouse, Le Clique, Electric Circus, Hurrah, GG's Barnum Room and many other places.
Together with Reel Art Press some of Bill's fantastic pictures have been gathered for this book. It captures the atmosphere of these clubs and the club goers along with documenting the decadence, energy and joy of the emerging Disco movement.
The book is not about celebrities, even though some are found here, it's all about the people and their interaction on and around the dance floor. A time warp right back to the last years of the 70's when life inside the clubs was an extravagant party and everything negative was left outside the door - except for what got captured on Bill's photo negatives. Thanks to them we now get to enjoy the Disco era all over again...
Buy this book, put on a good Disco record and just feel the vibe of a different time...

Bill Bernstein

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).

Lovers under the Moon and Spoon at Studio 54 Man at Studio 54

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...

Lilian Carter and Andy Warhol at Studio 54

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."

Dancers in front of the merry-go-round at Electric Circus Larry Levan behind the turntables at Paradise Garage

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."

Trapeze artists at GG Barnum Room Couple dancing at Xenon

Empire Roller Disco in Brooklyn

All pictures © Bill Bernstein / Reel Art Press

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