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“The nightlife scene was unique. There was a cultural upheaval during this time; gay and women's liberation, and the racial equality movement were all in full force,” says photographer Bill Bernstein of 60s and 70s New York. “It was a very difficult time, and people looked to the disco for a break from their daily grind. They went there to party, and they partied very hard and with all their might!” In amongst the crowd, in those heady, decadent days of partying all night long to shake off the blues of urban society, was Bernstein, clutching a camera and avidly recording the glitter-smothered, ever-moving crowds of the nocturnal dancers of New York city. “The disco was a perfect place to forget about life and just give in to the music, the drink, the drugs and the general life of abandon.”

Bernstein’s talent for photography was singled out and scooped up early on; he started out his career at The Village Voice and Elle Magazine, and later went on to spend 15 years as Paul McCartney’s personal photographer. In the 70s, however, Bernstein spent a lot of time at Studio 54, and other discos all over New York, unable to resist the photographic opportunities and wild atmosphere they perpetuated. Now, a book has been published devoted to his photos taken during that time: a weighty black and white tome aptly entitled DISCO. “During the months that I spent shooting the photographs for DISCO I think I saw so much going on that I became immune to strangeness and wildness,” he says. “It all sort of blended together in front of me, and I just kept shooting as much as I could.”

Snapping on Hasselblads, Nikons and Canons, Bernstein would wait with fingers crossed for his films to be processed, to see if his images, taken in the dark, moving nightclubs, had successfully come out. Luckily for us they nearly all did, and through them we are able to step into these raucous, glittering institutions of yesteryear, that sadly died out not long afterwards. Might we ever see that kind of nightlife again? “Certainly,” Bernstein responds, “but the thing that made it all so different was the political element of cultural liberation at that time. It added another important factor to the equation; the mixing of gender identities, cross-dressing, ‘gender-bending’ and plain old straight sex were a pretty common sight. It just didn't phase me after a while!”

Bill give's a run through of some of his favourite images here.

04 Nov, 2015 Liv Siddal