Disco Brought Back to Life at Serena Morton Gallery


Serena Morton Gallery is rapidly building up a name for its cool photography exhibitions. Coming off the back of its shows on Cuba and Warhol, comes Disco: The Bill Bernstein Exhibition that ties in the publication of Bill’s book with a display of some of his fresh, vital photography from such iconic and legendary venues such as Studio 54, Paradise Garage and Mudd Club.

Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs – both the book and the exhibition – is an access-all-areas tour to a lost and mythical world – the hedonism and freedom of late-70s New York nightlife.

This was a scene which grabbed the headlines due to its crowds of the famous and the beautiful. Yet, here, Bill instead photographed the regulars, the real faces of disco. These were the authentic, egalitarian crowd who lived and breathed the scene, who gave it its heart and soul. As Labelle vocalist Nona Hendryx, who has written the book’s introduction, says, “Every artist or friend coming into town wanted to go to 54. It didn’t matter if they were straight or gay, young or old, black or white – they all wanted in.”

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The show and the book contain many previously unpublished photographs, and the mood is evocative and atmospheric. And bittersweet. For this is a world gone, destroyed by conservative politics, the AIDS epidemic and changes to socio-economic culture that came with the 1980s where hedonism and happiness became wrapped up with economic gain, rather than music and expression.

These photos transport you, if only momentarily, to the exciting world of Disco. As Horse Meat Disco’s James Hillard writes in the book’s foreword, “These shots capture the very essence of what going out was, is, and should be, all about. They showed the true democracy of the dance floor where anyone could be a star, as long as they had the right attitude and flair … The pictures in this book are a document of an incredibly exciting and creative time, not only in music, but also in social, political and fashion history too.”

Indeed. A wonderful, wonderful book and show.

Serena Morton Gallery, London to January 23, 2016

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Image Credits © Bill Bernstein/Reel Art Press

  1. Studio 54 Cabaret Couple: This is one of the first shots I took at Studio 54 – the couple reminding me of a pre-war Berlin cabaret image. I had this image stuck in my mind throughout the entire Disco project. These were the people that I found the most intriguing, those who had a whole other life at night and became their fantasy character.
  2. Le Clique #1, 1979: Le Clique was a roaming disco that popped up in different locations throughout Manhattan. Its creators, Stu and Marlene Feinstein, conjured outrageous parties with acrobats, actors, dancers, special effects and staging.
  3. Empire Roller Disco #1, 1979: The Empire Roller Skating Rink in Crown Heights, Brooklyn opened in 1941 and finally closed its doors in 2007. It converted into a roller disco in the 70s and then the roller rink organ was replaced with a sound system and DJ booth. Empire was usually packed with an African-American crowd but top skaters of all races and creeds also came. It was a great place to shoot with good vibes all around.

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