Tod Papageorge’s Studio 54

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Tod Papageorge’s opulent documentation of famed 70s discotheque Studio 54 has been published into a book titled ‘Studio 54‘ published by Stanley Barker.

Papageorge only visited the New York club six to eight times between 1978 and 1980 and captured only a select amount of images per visit. These make up the 66 images in the book, a testament to the beguiling nirvana of the infamous Studio 54 on West 54th Street. Photographs of the club’s habitués- the glitterati- are not new and have been well circulated since the Studio’s inception due to the intense media coverage it attracted. Studio 54 was the place to be and be seen, to be photographed, mass-produced and consumed as a commodity. The club was saturated with celebrity photographers and existing publications on Studio 54 document it through eyes focused on the celebrities and the costumed attendees. Papageorge, however, observes the club’s un-sensational visitors; the people from the street lost in a Dionysian oblivion. Glittered girls lounge on a glittered coach and lillies cascade around a man overcome with the festivities, sleeping. One of the most sensuous photographs is a girl in a golden ensemble leaning against the bar, smoking a cigarette and clutching her chest. Her eyes roll back in her head, her mouth open. Its orgasmic, but she’s alone, consumed and seduced by Studio 54.

By day, Papageorge would photograph the people who happened to pass his curious lens in Central Park (these images make up ‘Passing Through Eden’, published in 2007) and would then follow the people passing through the exclusive velvet rope into Studio 54, by night.

All of the images taken inside Studio 54 were shot in black and white; a scene saturated in colour captured in monochromatic, tonal beauty. These evoke the images of  French photographer, Brassai, whom Papageorge proclaims he was a ‘student’ of. ‘Studio 54‘ pays homage to Brassai’s seductive photographs of Parisian nightclubs in the thirties.

‘I was there to describe as fully as I could, with as much formal authority as I could, what was an amazing scene’; Papageorge’s sensual images captured the dynamic of Studio 54’s existence, rather than the individuals running amock within it. This is what makes his collection of images so prolific- they’ve been lost behind the obsession with celebrity culture that was at its cusp during Studio 54’s halycon years. He was interested in people as social beings, characterized through the group they belong to and their experience of the present moment, he says that he ‘was disengaged with the subjects but totally engaged with the action’. In one image, a tangle of bodies and feathers contort on the floor of the club as a hand reaches for a balloon, floating momentarily; no image better captures the exhaustion that inevitably follows such hedonistic decadence as what characterises Studio 54 as a scene.

Papageorge’s photographs are poetic, not journalistic. They seek to witness- not expose- the chemistry of a movement of reckless abandon and desire. His subjects are beautiful and trashed. They’re also unknown. They’re neither celebrated or passed judgement on, personally or collectively, they are simply shapes forming a seductive tableaux of twentieth century social history.

Studio 54‘ is available to buy now from Stanley Parker, here. 

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