The Village People Stepping Out, The Grand Ballroom, NY, NY, June 1978 (l); Three Amigos, Bushwick (r). By Meryl Meisler.
It’s 2015 and Bushwick is on fire. But instead of being lost to the flames of neglect and destruction, buildings are being sold and rented like hotcakes. Photographer Meryl Meisler’s first monograph, “Disco Era Bushwick: A Tale of Two Cities,” published by Bizarre Bushwick gives us an insider’s view of the streets and scenes of New York City during the glam/gritty 1970s and ‘80s when Manhattan’s iconic dance clubs like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage were in their heyday–and there was no brunch to be had in Bushwick.
“Rejected From Studio 54 No No,” Studio 54, NY, NY, October 1978; Meryl Meisler.
Meisler remembers her disco nights as fondly as her days teaching in what was at the time possibly the run-down-est district in a fairly run-down city. The sharp divide between decadence and decay hits home but doesn’t preach in these affectionate portraits of the decidedly glitter-free streets of the North Brooklyn neighborhood.
“Roller Skates;” Bushwick Brooklyn, NY, circa 1984; Meryl Meisler.
According to Meisler, “NYC in the late 1970s and early ‘80s could best be described using Charles Dickens’ phrase ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'” Days after the blackout of 1977 cut the lights in NYC, “the disco beat was back, while headlines and radios blasted news” about Bushwick, a neighborhood she knew nothing about, where looting and rioting raged in darkness with no apparent end in sight.
Photographer Meryl Meisler talks about her experiences as a teacher in Bushwick in the ’80s.
In the early 1980s Meryl began teaching at a Bushwick public school, giving her a chance to see below the surface of the neighborhood that epitomized urban decay. She recounts that when she stepped off the L train at Myrtle-Wyckoff for the first time, “It looked like Beirut.” In time, though, she began to feel part of the fabric of the neighborhood, in part by teaching her students to photograph what they saw around them every day.
“The Last Wall;” Meryl Meisler.
In an interview with WeHeart, Meisler says, “The physical conditions of the neighborhood were more extreme than any I’d visited, even the South Bronx. It was the polar opposite of the wild nightlife scene…I don’t wax nostalgic for danger and despair…People are moving in or visiting instead of running away.” But she maintains that, “The dangers of gentrification include displacement and sanitising the unique character out of a neighborhood.”
“Miranda Senator,” Bushwick, Brooklyn, 1982; Meryl Meisler.
Grace Jones arrives at opening night, La Farfalle. New York City June 1978; Meryl Meisler.
In sharp contrast to Meryl’s disco photographs–which are being shown for the first time here–the images of Bushwick are the largest known documentation of the neighborhood during a decade that saw it at its worst.
“Boyz 2 Men,” Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, October 1982; Meryl Meisler.
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