by Tod Papageorge
Book Review for 1000 words by David Moore
Photographing in nightclubs is easy pickings for a photographer; dangerous sometimes, depending whether or not you are in Mayfair, or Barking; unfair because your quarry is often worse for wear, judgmental because there are multi various photographic tropes that comply easily with the iconography of loss and abandon. I know, I have done it myself. It’s exciting.
Tod Papageorge’s collection of documentary photographs from the ‘legendary ‘ nightclub are positioned uneasily in the shadows of Larry Fink, Winogrand and Mary Ellen Mark to name a few photographic observers of the rhythms of nocturnal social relations. The book object; matt black cover; platinum prints, gold coloured inlay summon wild fantasies of fascist pleasure-domes and the disco tackiness of Berlusconi.
Papageorge gained access to Studio 54, burning brightly in the late 1970’s, along with other photographers too, glimpsed in the background, part of the apparatus and heightening expectation, and like the Bowery, 3 miles downtown, Studio 54 appears to have been a go-to destination of easy photographic spectacle.
There is heightened irony in the extraordinary grandiose tableaux evidenced in Studio 54 sharing an iconography and historical lineage more with the work of Jacob Riis than any other NYC photographers. The induced collapse and sandwich of prostrate bodies; the pursuit of pleasure as primary purpose and apparent abandonment of any moral code all converse with Riis’s representations of Opium Dens and the cramped living of the same city 90 years previously.
Other revelers are in a state of utter trauma; the sublime opening image shows a Cinderella in an explosive aftermath, shattered glass at her feet, dazed and confused as her suitor checks her shoe size. She is oblivious to his attentions, on the margins, ready to leave, well after midnight already.
As a complete body of work Studio 54 is a welcome series, and the title of this mythologized blip of history offers a useful commodification for the works, yet what happened here happens everywhere. The enquiry of these photographs is elsewhere; the pursuit of oblivion via decadence and benign entitlement being familiar to us all from time to time.
©David Moore 2014