Dance Floors Forever: A Photography Special
Photographers who work at night know better than anyone how the human eye adapts to the absence of light. The rest of us tend to take night vision for granted or realize we have it, in the middle of the night or when leaving a dark theater, almost by accident.
Not to the photographer, however. For them, the eye is another instrument, another set of lenses capable of the myriad infinitesimal adjustments needed to capture the evanescence of light and its opposite.
Many images in this special issue were taken at night. But how much light or dark there is is not just a technical question. This is, in essence, the subject. Dancing, partying, expressing yourself, getting away from it all are essentially reactions to how much light or dark one feels in one’s life, day, or moment.
It’s no coincidence, I think, that the best dance floors – whether in the common room of a nursing home or an underground queer club in a homophobic dictatorship – alternate between light states.
You may wonder, as we have, why dwell on images of rejoicing in a time of grief and isolation? Because the heart, like the eyes, has a way of adapting to darkness. And looking at these photos, it becomes clear that this is a two-way process.
Matt Vella, Editor, FT Weekend Magazine
I took these photographs between 1978 and 1980 at Studio 54, the New York nightclub which, during those years, was the place to be and be seen — like the celebrities, revelers and dance freaks who filled in every night were happy to prove it. .
Given its notoriety (which became notorious during the 33 months of the club’s existence), it was difficult to enter: imperturbable doormen handing out access as if controlling the passage into a fabulous kingdom.
Only celebrities or the socially connected could assume that they would find themselves guided around the herd of hopeful celebrants who crowded from the street side of the velvet rope and would be led through the door. Otherwise, the most likely thing to help was to look good.
Once inside, everyone seemed thrilled to be there no matter how they had managed – excitement fueled by the throbbing disco beat and brilliantly designed interiors that, on a party night, might suggest n anything from Caliban’s cave to a harem.
I hoped to capture in these photographs something of the actuality of flesh, sweat and desire that filled Studio 54 like a physical atmosphere, using a medium format camera and the tonally rich negatives it produced. to help me do it. After which, drawn with all this still energy, they waited until 2014 to be published and exhibited for the first time.
Tod Papageorge is a photographer based in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. “War & Peace in New York” is at Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany until February 19, 2022
I took these photographs in 2019 and 2020 in nightclubs in Moscow, including the queer spaces Horovod and Popoff Kitchen, which is why they feature a lot of almost naked people.
In November 2020 in the Russian capital we had a curfew at 11 p.m., so the nightlife started earlier, at 6 p.m. It was fun.
People here love to dance and party because when you do, you feel free — and we don’t have enough freedom in terms of law and government. That’s why we like to feel free in our own way. Partying is how people who are constrained in their daily lives push the limits.
Sasha Mademuaselle is a photographer based in Moscow, Russia
The night has always had a powerful attraction for me – the silence, the keen sense of time passing and the absence of disturbance. I like that the longer you look the more visible it is as the eye adjusts, and this carries over to my photographs where I expose long enough to reveal what is usually left in the dark .
My nocturnal wanderings have taken me to many sites that temporarily transformed to host events, then remodeled to host other things. Such transformations usually occur for one occasion – a wedding, banquet, prayer meeting, conference or public performance – and are assembled and disassembled in a day or two.
I photographed many of these space chameleons across India, to observe and record them before they disappeared. It is in this recording that we can realize something, before it flashes and disappears.
Dhruv Malhotra is a photographer based in Jaipur, India
This body of work addresses the idea of liberation through celebration and dance. Although fleeting and ephemeral in nature, the spaces and places created for dancing and partying among people of color, especially black people, serve as defined and undefined spaces of transitory freedom.
These photographs were taken at a series of parties, balls and dances in Ithaca, New York, Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They remind me of the words of Frantz Fanon, the postcolonial philosopher, who wrote in his 1961 book Les Miserables of the Earth“At certain hours, on certain days, men and women meet in a given place, and there, under the solemn eye of the tribe, embark on an apparently unorganized pantomime, but in reality extremely systematic, in which by various means — nod of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing the whole body back — is deciphered as in an open book the enormous effort of a community to exorcise itself, to free itself, to explain itself. There are no limits – inside the circle.
Sasha Phyars-Burgess is a photographer based in Chicago, USA. ‘Untitled’ is published by capricious.com
The photographs for “Tea Dance” are the result of a conversation I had with one of my former students, Yuen Fong Ling, in 2000. I had worked at Salford Technical College in the 1980s, where I ran the darkroom and the studio. Yuen had just been hired as a curator at the recently reopened Castlefield Gallery in Manchester, and for his inaugural exhibition he wanted something that felt rooted in local culture.
The 1990s had been very youth-focused, as had my work up to that point. The old post-war traditions were coming to an end and it was the young people – and their unbridled desire and imagination – that everyone seemed to be looking to reshape the world.
It would have been very easy to do something around Manchester youth culture, but my parents got on well and it just felt right that I should commemorate their passing world instead. The generation I was part of had become so accustomed to understanding each other in opposition to their parents’ culture and values that it was easy to overlook the deeper underlying commonalities – our parents had experienced their own music scenes and dancing, after all – and the fact that our choices and expanded freedoms were based on the hard work and sacrifices of our parents’ generation. In working-class communities at least, this was very much the case.
Elaine Constantine is a photographer and filmmaker based in London, UK.
For 10 years during the 2000s, I traveled the back roads of Lithuania, photographing teenagers in village discotheques for my “DISKO” series. Most of the photos here are in Soviet-era cultural houses where I sometimes found abandoned paintings of Lenin, old movie posters, gas masks, and other remnants of the Soviet Union. I became fascinated by the teenagers reveling among these remnants of a dead empire. This series of photographs is about young Lithuanians, a crumbling past and an uncertain future, all gathered in one room.
Andrew Miksys is a photographer based in Vilnius, Lithuania
In 1984, I was director of photography on Indian cabaret, a documentary film by Mira Nair about the lives of six cabaret dancers at the Meghraj Cabaret in the suburbs of Bombay, India. At the end of the shoot, I put down my camera and took my camera. I photographed the dancers and tapped into the trust that had developed between us.
Mitch Epstein is a photographer based in New York, USA. “In India” is published by steidl.de
In the 1990s, I was a regular contributor to Vibe magazine, photographing artists such as Tupac and Biggie. In 2002, along with hip-hop pioneer and visual artist Fab 5 Freddy, I was sent to Chicago to document his famous steppin’ scene, which began in the city’s black communities in the 1970s. Fab 5 Freddy was writing about it for Vibe.
The direct ancestor of the Chicago steppin’ is the bop; it is a kind of dance where the fastest movements and the most complex footwork are often reserved for men. We went to the V103 Steppers Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the biggest steppin event in Chicago. There was a huge crowd on the dance floor so I set up my lights and 5×4 terrain camera on the side of the grand ballroom and invited some of the couples to show me their moves there .
The whole scene was thrilling: great music and the people were dressed to perfection. “Watching the steppers rise simultaneously, grab partners, and cruise in motion when the right song comes along is like watching people walk on water,” Fab 5 Freddy wrote in his post. “A dreamlike, transcendental, rhythmic elegance prevails, and the cool stepper attitude fills the room like nightfall.”
Dana Lixenberg is a photographer and filmmaker based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
This story is part of the FT Magazine “Tales from the dance floor” package, featuring Rosa Lyster on the best fictional partiesCaleb Azumah Nelson on the the magic of a good DJ – and six FT writers remembering the best party they ever attended