Dance floors forever: a special photography

Photographers who work at night know better than anyone how well the human eye adapts to the absence of light. The rest of us tend to take night vision for granted or realize that we have it, in the middle of the night or stepping out of 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 myriads of infinitesimal adjustments necessary to capture the evanescence of light and its opposite.

Most of the images in this special issue were taken at night. But the amount of light or darkness inside isn’t just a technical matter. This is, in essence, the subject. Dancing, partying, expressing yourself, getting away from it all – all of these activities are basically reactions to the amount of light or darkness one feels in his life, day or moment.

It’s no accident, I think, that the best dance floors – whether in the common room of a retirement home or in an underground queer club of a homophobic dictatorship – alternate between light states.

You may well ask yourself, as we have done, why dwell on pictures 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 evident that this is a two way process.

Matt Vella, Editor-in-Chief, FT Weekend Magazine

Tod Papageorge

All images Untitled, from the Studio 54 series, New York, 1978-1980 © Tod Papageorge. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

I took these photographs between 1978 and 1980 at Studio 54, the New York nightclub that, during those years, was the place to be and be seen – like the celebrities, party people, and dance freaks who lapped it up. were filling up every night were happy to prove it. .

Given its reputation (which has exploded in the club’s 33 months of existence), it was difficult to enter: unperturbed doormen distributing access as if controlling passage to a fabulous realm.

Only famous or socially connected people could assume that they would find themselves guided around the herd of hopeful celebrants who were dying on the street side of the Velvet Rope and being led through the gate. If not, the thing most likely to help was to be beautiful.

Once inside, everyone seemed delighted to be there no matter how they handled it – an excitement fueled by the pulsating disco beat and brilliantly designed interiors that, on a party night, could. suggest anything from Caliban’s cave to a harem.

I hoped to capture in these photographs something of the topicality of flesh, sweat and desire that filled Studio 54 like a physical atmosphere, using a medium format camera and the richly toned negatives it produced. to help me do it. After which, traced with all this calm 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

Sacha Mademuaselle

Photographs taken in Moscow nightclubs, 2019- 2020 © Sasha Mademuaselle

I took these photographs in 2019 and 2020 at nightclubs in Moscow, including 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.

Here people 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 life push boundaries.

Sasha Mademuaselle is a photographer based in Moscow, Russia

Dhruv Malhotra

Untitled photographs from the After Party series, 2009-2013 © Dhruv Malhotra

Night has always had a powerful attraction for me – silence, a keen sense of the passing of time and the absence of disturbance. I love the fact that the longer you look the more noticeable as the eye adjusts, and that echoes in my photographs where I expose long enough to reveal what is usually left in the dark. .

My nocturnal wanderings led me to many sites that would transform to temporarily host events, then rearrange themselves to accommodate other things. Such transformations usually happen for an occasion – a wedding, banquet, prayer meeting, conference, or public performance – and are put together and taken apart in a day or two.

I have photographed many of these chameleon spaces all over India, looking at them and recording them before they are gone. It is in this recording that we can achieve something, before it blinks and disappears.

Dhruv Malhotra is a photographer based in Jaipur, India

Sasha Phyars-Burgess

© Sasha Phyars-Burgess / Capricieuse

This body of work engages with 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 blacks, serve as defined and undefined areas of transient freedom.

These photographs were taken during 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 The damned of the earth: “At certain times on certain days, men and women meet in a given place, and there, under the solemn eye of the tribe, throw themselves into an apparently disorderly pantomime, which is in reality extremely systematic, in which by various means – shaking the head, bending the spine, throwing the whole body back – can be read as in an open book the immense 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

Elaine constantine

Photographs taken in 2000 in various ballrooms in the Greater Manchester area © Elaine Constantine / Industry Art

The photographs for “Tea Dance” were 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 was there. managed 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 the local culture.

The 90s had been very youth-oriented, as had my work until then. The old post-war traditions were drawing to a close, and it was through the young – and their unbridled desire and imaginations – that everyone seemed to seek to shape the world anew.

It would have been very easy to do something around Manchester youth culture, but my parents got along well and it just felt right that I should instead commemorate their passing world. The generation I was a part of had become so used to understanding themselves in opposition to their parents’ culture and values ​​that it was easy to forget the deepest underlying commonalities – our parents had experienced their own scenes. music and dance, after all – and the fact that our expanded choices and freedoms were based on the hard work and sacrifice of our parents’ generation. In the working-class communities at least, this was quite the case.

Elaine Constantine is a photographer and director based in London, UK

Andrew Miksys

DISKO series, Lithuania 1999-2010 © Andrew Miksys

For 10 years in the 2000s, I traveled the back roads of Lithuania, photographing teenagers in village nightclubs for my “DISKO” series. Most of the images here are in houses of culture from the Soviet era where I sometimes found abandoned paintings of Lenin, old movie posters, gas masks, and other relics of the Soviet Union. I became fascinated by the teenagers who reveled among this debris of a dead empire. This series of photographs is about young Lithuanians, a past in ruins and an uncertain future, all gathered in one room.

Andrew Miksys is a photographer based in Vilnius, Lithuania

Mitch epstein

Rosy, Meghraj Cabaret, Bombay, Maharashtra, India 1984
© Mitch Epstein. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

In 1984, I was director of photography on India Cabaret, a documentary film by Mira Nair about the lives of six cabaret dancers at the Meghraj Cabaret in the suburbs of Mumbai, India. At the end of the shoot, I put down my camera and picked up my camera. I photographed the dancers and tapped into the trust that had established between us.

Mitch Epstein is a photographer based in New York, United States. ‘In India’ is published by

Dana lixenberg

V103 Steppers Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago 2002 © Dana Lixenberg

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, Chicago’s biggest steppin event. There was a huge crowd on the dance floor, so I set up my lights and 5×4 field 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 people dressed to perfection. “Watching the steppers stand up simultaneously, grabbing mates and sailing on the move when the right song is ringing is like seeing people walking on water,” Fab 5 Freddy wrote in his post. “A dreamlike, transcendent and rhythmic elegance prevails, and the cool attitude of the stepper pervades the room like nightfall.”

Dana Lixenberg is a photographer and director based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

This story is part of the FT magazine package “Tales from the Dance Floor”, featuring Rosa Lyster on the best fictional parties, Caleb Azumah Nelson on the magic of a good DJ – and six FT writers remembering the best party they attended

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