Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Photographers who work at night know better than most people 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 we have it, in the middle of the night or to leave a darkened theater, almost by accident.

But not for the photographer. To them, the eye is another instrument, another set of lenses capable of the power, infinite adjustments needed to capture the disappearance of light and the opposite.

Many of the images in this special issue were taken at night. But the amount of light or darkness in it is not merely a technical matter. This is essentially the topic. Dancing, partying, expressing, escaping – all of these pursuits are essentially responses to the amount of light or darkness one feels in your life or day or moment.

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

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

Matt Vella, Editor, FT Weekend Magazine

Dead parrot

All titles without title, from the series Studio 54, New York, 1978-1980 © Tod Papageorge. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

I took these photos between 1978 and 1980 at Studio 54, the New York nightclub that was the place to be and be seen during those years – like the celebrities, partygoers and the dance fanatic who filled it every night, was glad to prove.

Given its reputation (which became known during the club’s 33-month existence), it was difficult to get in: undisturbed doorkeepers handed out access as if they were controlling the passage to a wonderful kingdom.

Only the celebrities or socially connected could assume that they were leading themselves around the herd of hopeful celebrants grinding on the street side of the velvet rope and being led through the door. Otherwise, the thing that would probably help was to be beautiful.

Once inside, everyone was excited to be there, no matter how they managed it – an excitement fueled by the throbbing disco beat and brilliantly designed interiors that add anything from Caliban’s cave to a party night. can suggest a harem.

I was hoping to capture in these photos something of the topicality of flesh and sweat and desire that filled Studio 54 like a physical atmosphere, using a medium-format camera and the tonal negatives it produced around me. to help do so. After that, they waited, with all that quiet energy, 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

Sasha Mademuaselle

Photos taken in Moscow nightclubs, 2019-20202 © Sasha Mademuaselle

I took these photos in 2019 and 2020 at nightclubs in Moscow, including the strange spaces Horovod and Popoff Kitchen, and therefore they have a lot of almost-naked people.

In November 2020 in the Russian capital we had an evening clock rule at 23:00, so the nightlife started just earlier, at 18:00. It was fun.

Here people love dancing and partying, because when you do, you feel free – and we do not have enough freedom in terms of the law and the government. That’s why we like to feel free in our own way. Partying is how people who are limited in their daily lives push the boundaries.

Sasha Mademuaselle is a photographer based in Moscow, Russia

Dhruv Malhotra

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

The night has always had a powerful attraction for me – the silence, the heightened sense of the passage of time and the absence of disturbance. I like the fact that the longer one looks, the more visible is as the eye adjusts, and this carries over to my photos where I expose long enough to reveal what is usually left dark.

My wanderings at night led me to many sites that would change to offer temporary opportunities and then reform themselves to accommodate other things. Such transformations usually take place for the sake of an occasion – a wedding, a banquet, a prayer meeting, a conference or a public performance – and are gathered and broken down within a day or two.

I photographed many of these chameleon spaces all over India to look at and register them before they disappear. It is in this registration that we can realize something, before it flashes and is gone.

Dhruv Malhotra is a photographer based in Jaipur, India

Sasha Phyars-Burgess

© Sasha Phyars-Burgess / Wrapping

This work is involved in the idea of ​​liberation through parties and dance. Although fleeting and fleeting in nature, the spaces and places created for dancing and partying between people of color, especially black people, serve as defined and undefined areas of transient freedom.

These photos were taken at a series of parties, balls and dances in Ithaca, New York, Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They remember for me the words of Frantz Fanon, the postcolonial philosopher, who wrote in his 1961 book. The wretched of the earth: “At certain times on certain days men and women gather in a given place and throw themselves there under the solemn eye of the tribe in a seemingly disorganized pantomime, which is in fact extremely systematic, in which by various means – shakes from the head, flexion of the spine, throwing of the whole body backwards – can be deciphered as in an open book the great attempt of a community to drive itself out, to liberate itself, to declare itself. There are no limits – within the circle. “

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

Elaine Constantine

Photos taken in 2000 at several ballrooms in the Greater Manchester area © Elaine Constantine / Industry Art

The “Tea Dance” photos were the result of a conversation I had in 2000 with a former student of mine, Yuen Fong Ling. I worked at Salford Technical College in the 1980s, managing the darkroom and studio there. Yuen has just been hired as a curator at the newly reopened Castlefield Gallery in Manchester and for the first show he wanted something that feels rooted in local culture.

The 1990s were very youth focused and so was my work up to that point. The old post-war traditions came to an end and it was for young people – and their unbridled desire and imagination – that it seemed as if everyone was looking for the world anew.

It would have been very easy to do something around Manchester’s youth culture, but my parents got going and it felt right that I should rather commemorate their passing world. The generation of which I was a part became so accustomed to understanding themselves in conflict with the culture and values ​​of their parents that it was easy to overlook the deeper underlying commonalities – after all, our parents have their own music- and experience dance scenes – and the fact that our extensive choices and freedoms were based on the hard work and sacrifices of our older generation. At least in working class communities this was very much the case.

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

Andrew Miksys

DISKO Series, Lithuania 1999-2010 © Andrew Miksys

For 10 years during the noughties, I traveled the back roads of Lithuania and photographed teens in town discos for my series “DISKO”. Most of the pictures here are in Soviet era culture houses where I would sometimes find discarded paintings of Lenin, old movie posters, gas masks and other remnants of the Soviet Union. I was fascinated by the teenagers who reveled in this rubble of a dead empire. This series of photos is about young Lithuanians, a crumbling past and the uncertain future, all 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 the director of photography at India Cabaret, a documentary by Mira Nair about the lives of six cabaret dancers at the Meghraj Cabaret in the suburbs of Bombay, India. At the end of the shoot, I put down my film camera and picked up my stationary one. I took down the dancers and drew from the trust that developed between us.

Mitch Epstein is a photographer based in 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 was a regular contributor to Vibe magazine and photographed artists such as Tupac and Biggie. In 2002, I was sent to Chicago with hip-hop pioneer and visual artist Fab 5 Freddy to document his famous steppe scene, which began in the city’s black communities in the 1970s. Fab 5 Freddy wrote about it for Vibe.

The immediate ancestor of Chicago steppin ‘is the bop; it is a kind of dance where the fastest movements and most complicated footwork are often reserved for the men. We went to the V103 Steppers Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago’s largest steppin event. There was a large crowd on the dance floor, so I set up my lights and 5×4 field camera on the side of the large ballroom and invited some of the couples to show me their movements there.

The whole scene was exciting: great music and people were dressed up to nine. “Seeing steppers stand up at the same time, grab partners and set in motion when the right song comes up is like watching people walk on water,” Fab 5 Freddy wrote in his piece. “A dreamlike, transcendental, rhythmic elegance prevails, and the cool stepper’s attitude overwhelms the room like the autumn of night.”

Dana Lixenberg is a photographer and filmmaker based in Amsterdam, the 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 authors who best party they’ve ever attended

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