Revisiting 1970s New York’s Irrepressible Disco Era

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Jive Guy on Williamsburg Subway, Brooklyn, NY, March 1978© Meryl Meisler

From Grace Jones shrugging off her coat to the Village People arriving in full regalia, Meryl Meisler’s new exhibition chronicles NYC nightlife, making for a delightfully brassy Happy Monday

It’s no secret that December can be a difficult month – ironically, at times, a little lacking in exuberance. Behold, then, the perfect uplifting surprise for a Monday morning from Meryl Meisler’s latest exhibition and book, SASSY 70s NYC, which is currently showing at Midoma Gallery in New York. Meisler has made a career capturing life in Bushwick, New York City, and this series takes the city’s famed disco nightlife as its muse. The 70s have become an era for which we today are especially nostalgic, and these scintillating images all but transport us to its infamous dancefloors. Meisler's opportunistic snapshots are steeped in attitude; she describes the exhibition's corresponding book, entitled Purgatory & Paradise: SASSY 70s Suburbia & the City, as “sweet and sassy, with a pinch of mystery”.

Meisler moved to New York in the late 70s and worked at various go-go bars in the city, where “occasionally I brought my camera, and after working at the bars, I’d go out to discos and after-hours clubs”. This sense of uninhibited adventure permeates her photographs, along with Meisler’s evidently endless excitement for her subjects. She singles out Self Portrait: Playmate Hostess as a favourite moment. “I completely forgot about the photo until looking through my archives for the book,” she says. “I was stunned by how beautiful it is; it brought back the atmosphere, mutual respect, a unique time in my life and the world around me.”

Her photographs are unique in their candour. There’s Grace Jones shrugging her coat off upon entering the club; Andy Warhol caught off-guard by the camera; and one image simply entitled The Village People Stepping Out, the tribe in all of its feather head-dressed and leather-clad glory. There is astounding variety, too. “The disco era was an époque unto itself,” Meisler explains. “New music, dance, people of all diverse ages, ethnicities and persuasions coming together to celebrate creativity and life, if just for that one night together.”

Meisler's faultless account of the disco era and its unwavering inclusivity is surely the joyous jolt of energy we are all in need of mid-way through December, and hers is an outlook we can all reap the benefits of. “When I moved to NYC in 1975; it felt just right. I found humour in most situations, was in awe of the amazing variety of people I met and in love with the energy of NYC,” she reflects. “Call it sassy, call it energy, and call it an appreciation for the spice of life through sadness and heartache. This is still who I am. This is what I choose to capture and hold on to. This is how I see.”

Meryl Meisler: SASSY 70s NYC is at Midoma Gallery, New York until January 6, 2017. Meryl Meisler's books can be purchased here