New York City 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,” and Meryl Meisler’s photographs documented it with compassion and humor. As the city neared bankruptcy, crime rates rose, and epidemics of arson and crack made the Big Apple seem like it was rotting to the core. Yet in the midst of it all, a scintillating, groundbreaking disco nightlife culture arose. Crossing the most exclusive clubs’ velvet gates, Meisler danced and photographed with her medium format camera.
On July 13, 1977, while Meisler was en route to Studio 54, a blackout shuttered New York City. A few days later, the disco beat was back while headlines and radios blasted news about a neighborhood had she never heard of before: Bushwick, where looting and rioting erupted in the darkness and continued for days on end.
Four years later, in 1981, Meisler took on a teaching position in a Bushwick Public School. On its surface the neighborhood epitomized urban decay. The beauty of natural light and those who loved and thrived in the destruction were captured with a point-and-shoot camera as Meisler walked to and from the subway and the school.
Meisler’s series “A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick” is the most extensive known documentation of the neighborhood during a desperate decade. Meisler juxtaposes her disco photographs with candid images of Bushwick residents and the crumbling streetscape around them. “A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick” was published as a monograph in 2014 featuring Meisler’s never-before-seen photographs alongside texts by authors—Bushwick historians, educators, and disco divas alike—who grew up amongst the rubble.