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These Polaroids Of Madonna, Warhol, And Other Downtown Denizens Of ’80s NYC Are Cooler Than You

Photographer Edo Bertoglio discusses how he captured a historical nightlife scene for his book, New York Polaroids 1976—1989.

Although some of it has aged remarkably well, punk rock was not designed for longevity. It was a movement of a moment, and you were either there or you were not. Photographer Edo Bertoglio was there, however, and he recorded the era with the most instantaneous instrument of the time: the Polaroid camera.

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“Polaroids were a way to document everything that was around me,” says the photographer, who recently released the book, New York Polaroids 1976—1989. “Friends, parties, interiors, things, trips, souvenirs in general—a sort of a diary of my life. Nowadays people do that with iPhones, but back then Polaroids were the only way to share moments with friends.”

Bertoglio was covering the downtown scene in New York at just about the perfect time to be doing so—the late ‘70s. It was a time when you could go to Max’s Kansas City, if they let you in, and maybe catch Parallel Lines-era Blondie. (If you hadn’t ingested too many substances to cognitively absorb the experience, that is.)

“For me, it really began around 1977,” Bertoglio says, “going to clubs like CBGB to see new bands like Blondie, James Chance, DNA, Lydia Lunch, etc. The music was what was gathering people downtown, especially the East Village, where rents were cheap and artists could live with little money.”

As a photographer for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Bertoglio was contractually obligated to see all the bands and brave the notorious bathroom at CBGB’s on many a night. Aside from his occupational photography, though, he also took enough Polaroids to fill a book.

New York Polaroids 1976—1989 is a study of one era fading into another, both of which are now ancient cultural history. Bertoglio was there when the scuzzbucket glam of the ’70s morphed into the art-damaged fantasia of the ’80s, and the transition occurs within the pages of his book.

“I felt it was time now to put out the book,” the artist says, “because I’m looking back to all of my archives of that period and there is still a lot of interest by those who were there and by young people who are discovering the music and the arts of the ’80s.”

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Looking through all the old photos has also given him a chance to reminisce on what’s changed since those eras–the commodification of spontaneity.

“Polaroids were fun to take and to pose for, everybody participated gladly for the snapshot of that moment,” he says. “The photos exist and you can touch them, unlike virtual pictures residing in your phone.”

You can’t touch the photos in the slides above, but have a look at them, and then at Bertoglio’s book here, which you can indeed touch tactilely.