Dance floors forever: a photo special

Photographers who work at night know better than most how well the human eye adapts to the absence of light. The rest of us tend to take night vision for granted or to realize that we have it almost by accident in the middle of the night or when leaving a darkened theater.

Not for the photographer, however. For them, the eye is another instrument, another set of lenses that enables the myriad, infinitely small adjustments that are necessary to capture the transience of light and its opposite.

Many of the images in this special edition were taken at night. But the amount of light or darkness in it is not just a technical question. It is essentially the subject. Dancing, partying, expressing yourself, fleeing – all of these activities are essentially responses to the amount of light or darkness one feels in one’s life or day or moment.

It is no coincidence, I think, that the best dance floors – whether in the common room of an old people’s home or in a queer underground club in a homophobic dictatorship – switch between lighting conditions.

You may well ask, as we did, why dwell on images of exuberance in a time of sadness and loneliness? Because the heart, like the eyes, has a way of adapting to the darkness. And when you look at these photos, it becomes clear that this is a two-way process.

Matt Vella, Editor, FT Weekend Magazine

Death parrot

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

I took these photographs between 1978 and 1980 in Studio 54, the New York nightclub that, during those years, was the place to be and be seen – like the celebrities, partiers, and dance-crazy people who filled it every night have proven.

Given its reputation (which rose to fame during the club’s 33 months of existence) it was difficult to get in: imperturbable bouncers distributed access as if they were controlling the passage into a fabulous kingdom.

Only the famous or socially familiar could assume that they had pulled themselves around the crowd of hopeful revelers and found themselves led through the door on the street side of the velvet rope. Otherwise, it was most likely to be beautiful.

Once inside, everyone seemed delighted no matter how they got it – an excitement nourished by the throbbing disco beat and brilliantly designed interiors that could suggest anything from Caliban’s cave to a harem on a night of partying.

I hoped to capture in these photographs some of the timeliness of flesh and sweat and desire that filled Studio 54 like a physical atmosphere by using a medium format camera and the richly toned negatives that helped me do this. Then they waited, pursued with all the silent energy, until 2014 for their publication and first exhibition.

Tod Papageorge is a photographer from New Haven, Connecticut, United States. “War & Peace in New York” is in the Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany until February 19, 2022

Sasha Mademuaselle

Photographs in Moscow nightclubs, 2019-2020 © Sasha Mademuaselle

I took these photographs in 2019 and 2020 in nightclubs in Moscow, including the queer rooms Horovod and Popoff Kitchen, which is why they show many almost naked people.

In November 2020 we had a curfew at 11 p.m. in the Russian capital, so the nightlife just started earlier, at 6 p.m. It was fun.

People like to dance and party here because then you feel free – and we don’t have enough freedom with regard to law and government. That is why we like to feel free in our own way. Celebration is how people who are limited in their daily life push the limits.

Sasha Mademuaselle is a photographer from Moscow, Russia

Dhruv Malhotra

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

The night has always had a strong charm for me – the silence, the increased feeling for the passage of time and the absence of disturbances. I like the fact that the longer you look, the more it is visible as the eye adjusts, and this carries over to my photographs, where I expose long enough to reveal what normally stays dark.

My nightly forays have taken me to many places that temporarily turn into events and then remodel to accommodate other things. Such transformations usually occur due to an occasion – a wedding, banquet, prayer meeting, conference, or public performance – and are set up and dismantled within a day or two.

I photographed many of these chameleon rooms across India to view and register before they disappear. In this registry, we can spot something before it flickers and goes away.

Dhruv Malhotra is a photographer from Jaipur, India

Sasha Phyars-Burgess

© Sasha Phyars-Burgess / Capricious

This work deals with the idea of ​​liberation through celebration and dancing. 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 ephemeral freedom.

These photographs were taken at a number of parties, balls, and dances in Ithaca, New York, Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You remind me of the words of Frantz Fanon, the post-colonial philosopher who wrote in his book in 1961 The wretched of the earth: “At certain times, on certain days, men and women come together in a certain place and, under the solemn eyes of the tribe, plunge into a seemingly disorganized pantomime, which in reality is extremely systematic, in which in various ways – shaking the head, bowing the spine, throwing back the whole body – can be deciphered like in an open book, the tremendous effort of a community to drive itself out, to free itself, to explain itself. There are no limits – within the circle. “

Sasha Phyars-Burgess is a photographer from Chicago, USA. ‘Untitled’ is published by

Elaine Constantine

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

The Tea Dance photos were the result of a conversation I had with a former student of mine, Yuen Fong Ling, in 2000. I had worked at Salford Technical College in the 1980s, where I ran the darkroom and studio. Yuen had just been appointed curator at the newly opened Castlefield Gallery in Manchester and wanted something that was rooted in the local culture for their inaugural exhibition.

The 1990s were very youth-oriented and so was 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 strove to reshape the world.

It would have been very easy to do something in Manchester’s youth culture, but my parents were moving forward and it felt right that I should commemorate their passing world instead. The generation to which I belonged had become so used to understanding themselves against their parents’ culture and values ​​that it was easy to overlook the deeper similarities – after all, our parents had experienced their own music and dance scenes – and the fact that our expanded choices and freedoms were based on the hard work and sacrifices of our parents’ generation. At least in workers’ communities this was the case.

Elaine Constantine is a photographer and filmmaker based in London, United Kingdom

Andrew Miksys

DISKO series, Lithuania 1999-2010 © Andrew Miksys

In the noughties I traveled the back streets of Lithuania for 10 years, photographing teenagers in village discos for my series “DISKO”. Most of the pictures here are in Soviet-era culture houses, where I sometimes found discarded Lenin paintings, old movie posters, gas masks, and other remnants of the Soviet Union. I was intrigued by the teenagers who wallowed among these ruins of a dead empire. This photo series is about young Lithuanians, a crumbling past and an uncertain future, all together in one room.

Andrew Miksys is a photographer from Vilnius, Lithuania

Mitch Epstein

Rosy, Meghraj Cabaret, Bombay, Maharashtra, India 1984
© Mitch Epstein. With the kind permission of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

In 1984 I was the cameraman for India cabaret, a documentary by Mira Nair about the lives of six cabaret dancers at Meghraj Cabaret in the suburbs of Bombay, India. At the end of the shoot, I put down my film camera and picked up my still camera. I photographed the dancers and drew on the trust that had developed between us.

Mitch Epstein is a photographer from New York, USA. ‘In India’ is published by

Dana Lixenberg

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

In the 1990s, I wrote regularly for Vibe magazine and photographed artists like Tupac and Biggie. In 2002, I was sent to Chicago with hip hop pioneer and visual artist Fab 5 Freddy to document the famous steppin scene that began in the city’s black communities in the 1970s. Fab 5 Freddy wrote about it for Vibe.

The direct ancestor of Chicago Steppin ‘is the bop; It’s a type of dance in which the nimble movements and the most intricate footwork are often reserved for men. We went to the V103 Steppers Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago’s largest steppin event. There was a huge crowd on the dance floor so I put my lights and 5×4 field camera to the side of the grand ballroom and invited some of the couples there to show me their moves.

The whole scene was thrilling: great music and people were attracted to the smallest detail. “To see steppers step up, grab partners and start moving at the same time when the right song sounds, is like seeing people walking on water,” wrote Fab 5 Freddy in his piece. “There is a dreamlike, transcendental, rhythmic elegance, and the attitude of the cool stepper rolls over the room like nightfall.”

Dana Lixenberg is a photographer and filmmaker from Amsterdam, Netherlands

This story is part of the FT magazine package “Tales from the dance floor” with Rosa Lyster on the best fictional parties, Caleb Azumah Nelson on the Magic of a good DJ – and six FT writers remember them best party you have ever attended

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