In the early morning hours of January 1, 1978, photographer Tod Papageorge was ringing in the New Year at Studio 54. It was his first visit to the legendary club, and, inspired Brassaï’s photographs of Parisian nightlife in the 1930s, he’d brought along a hefty, six-by-nine-centimeters Fujica camera. “I hoped to capture something of the actuality of flesh and sweat and desire I’d recognized in the Hungarian photographer’s work,” Papageorge explains in the epilogue of Studio 54, a new book featuring his photographs from the eponymous club, out this month from Stanley Barker.
Between 1978 and 1980, Papageorge visited the 54th Street disco club only a handful of times — six or eight, he guesses — and took only a few frames each time (the Fujica could only make eight exposures before requiring a film change). The resulting photographs provide an exquisite look back at the club’s unparalleled decadence and debauchery, from ice sculptures and bedazzled nipple pasties to Lycra unitards, confetti, and many a passed-out partier. Sixty-six of Papageorge’s photos make up the entirety of his new book, where they appear without captions or identification. “They were always meant to speak for themselves, with a persuasiveness distinct from the fact-telling of journalism or the occluded eloquence of ‘old’ photographs,” he writes.
Click through the slideshow for a look back at the glorious revelry that defined the heyday of Studio 54.