The man behind the camera of 70s nightlife in New York City is coming to Fishtown's LMNO this week for a must-attend event. On Dec. 2, meet Bill Bernstein while he signs a copy of his new book entitled Last Dance—a collection of his iconic photographs of NYC’s club scene.
From Studio 54 to Le Clique, New York City’s nightlife in the 1970s was unforgettable, and thanks to iconic photographer Bill Bernstein, we have the images to prove it. Explore a world of wild partying, freedom of expression and bold fashions by picking up his first self-published book, Last Dance. To learn more about this new project, we caught up with the famed photographer who discussed his inspiration and what readers can expect.
What about Last Dance is most exciting for you?
The most exciting thing about Last Dance for me is being able to tell the story of a time period in New York City where mainstream cultures, subcultures and marginalized cultures could all get together in one space and party harmoniously for the night. A wild, sexually open time when the Women’s Movement, The Gay Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Movement had been born and found their voice.
Why did you title the book Last Dance?
The title is a reference to the time period of the late 1970s, early 1980s when the AIDS crisis became of major concern. In a sense, the party scene in New York City came to a close in many ways at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s. People were more cautious and wary about going out to party at night. Also, disco music faced a rebellion and a backlash. Studio 54 shut down temporarily when the owners were sent to prison for tax evasion. Donna Summer’s Last Dance was also one of the most popular songs of that era.
What from New York City's club culture did you try to capture in your photos?
I tried to capture the openness, the style and fashion, the sexiness and overall freedom of expression that I witnessed at many of these venues in the late 70s. I was drawn to the real people who went to these clubs for fun and to express themselves on the dance floor.
What do you think people will enjoy most when reading this book?
I think people will enjoy seeing the way people partied during this time: the fashion, faces and the openness and sexiness of it all. The feeling of freedom of expression and the thrill that you get being in a room with other people and loud pounding music seems to bring out the tribalness and beast in us all, in a good way!
Do you have a favorite image or two from the collection?
One of my favorites is the photograph of Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan in the DJ booth spinning records. Larry was considered a god back then, and now. His mixes are legendary and the club itself was very special. I had a chance to hang with Larry one night for a while and watch, and photograph, him in action.
Photography by: Bill Bernstein