Get Down! Chicago Nightclubs In The 1970s

Michael Abramson documents nightclubs on Chicago's South Side

Chicago nightclubs

 

You can almost hear the sound in Michael Abramson’s pictures of Chicago nightclubs in the 1970s. Inspired by mid-century Hungarian-French photographer Brassaï’s street photography of Paris in the early decades of the 20th century, Abramson (1948–2011) began photographing nightclubs on Chicago’s South Side – clubs like: Peppers Hideout, Perv’s House, the High Chaparral, the Patio Lounge, and the Showcase Lounge. Abramson, the white photographer from New Jersey, wasn’t sure whether he’d be welcome to take pictures of people enjoying themselves in black nightclubs. It turns out he was very welcome. He “had a ball” dancing and drinking with the revellers.

 

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

 

 

“I realise I have been to every part of the planet… But I have never been as far away as I was when I was on the South Side of Chicago. Not because it was exotic, but because it was so exhilarating”

– Michael Abramson

 

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

This image, like others in the series, was taken at Perv’s House, described by Abramson as ‘the Cadillac of the clubs I visited – like a Playboy Club for the South Side’

Chicago nightclub Perv’s House, described by Abramson as “the Cadillac of the clubs I visited – like a Playboy Club for the South Side”

 

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

 

Abramson went on to have a successful career in photojournalism, photographing the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs.

His nightlife photographs from the 1970s earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and eventually resulted in a beautiful hardbound book, Light: On the South Side, housed in a slipcase along with a 2 LP set featuring Chicago blues as heard from the stage and the jukebox (Numero Group 2009, Grammy-nominated). In 2015, CityFiles Press published Gotta Go Gotta Flow, which paired a unique collection of Abramson’s South Side photos with new work by the acclaimed poet Patricia Smith.

 

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

‘Michael liked this photo because the train was full of white people,’ Midge Wilson, Abramson’s long-time partner, told Chicago Magazine. ‘For them, [whizzing through the South Side] was a voyeuristic, safe kind of experience. And for Michael, it was real. He was there’

“Michael liked this photo because the train was full of white people,” Midge Wilson, Abramson’s long-time partner, told Chicago Magazine. “For them, [whizzing through the South Side] was a voyeuristic, safe kind of experience. And for Michael, it was real. He was there”

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

michaelabramsonchicagoclubs-1970s

 

An exhibition of Abramson’s work is at MMX Gallery, London, 21 March-6 May. All photographs: Michael Abramson/courtesy MMX Gallery