Bill Bernstein – The Disco Photographs

 

Bill Bernstein is an award winning, New York-based photographer, most known for his striking portraiture, long-term work with Paul McCartney, and his unique photographic record of the Big Apple’s Disco era.

Bill’s photographic career began at the Village Voice in the 1970s, where he specialised in street photography, portraiture, and club culture. In December 1978, he and journalist Vita Miezitis, undertook a comprehensive eighteen-month project to document New York’s diverse nightlife. Bill’s images and Vita’s text were then combined to form Night Dancin’, abook published in 1981. However, timing was not on their side, as by then the Disco Sucks backlash was in full swing, resulting in poor sales of the book, which was soon remaindered. 

In 2003, London-based curator David Hill saw a by-now-rare copy of the book and contacted Bill, who still had all negatives carefully stored. Together they hatched a plan to produce a new coffee-table photobook, with more images than Night Dancin’, and to much higher standard of print. Disco was published by Reel Art Press in 2015 to great media acclaim, with an accompanying exhibition of the work being held at Hill’s recently opened photography gallery in West London.

Since this debut exhibition, the series has been shown internationally; from Berlin to New York (Museum of Sex) to Florida. In London, images were included in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Night Fever exhibition, which also showed at V&A Dundee, and at the Design Museum’s From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers exhibition. 

In 2017, Bill was invited to speak at the Library of Congress about the expressive, hedonistic days of Disco in pre-AIDS New York. Of the late 70s Disco era, he says, “It was a momentary glimpse of a culture of inclusion that we are only beginning to see emerging in our world today.”

 

'Bill Bernstein took some of the most memorable pictures of the late 1970s New York club scene in existence, bottling the atmosphere and inherent hedonism’ AnOther Magazine

'It all started in November of 1977 with a photo assignment from the Village Voice to shoot an event at the newly-opened Studio 54. As a young photographer I was pretty blown away by the people and the scene at Studio my first night. What really caught my eye was the amazing diversity and freedom of expression in the crowd. Both the sexuality and the sensuality were overwhelming. I loved the inclusion of Black, white, old, young, rich, struggling, LGBTQ and straight people all mixing together on the dance floor so seamlessly. I think it was my first night at Studio that I heard some rumblings of this great club downtown with this killer DJ. The place was Paradise Garage and the DJ was Larry Levan.' Bill Bernstein