Disco... What are you thinking of? Gloria Gaynor? Dianna Ross? You bet ya! That period of time in the 70's that you hear so much about, or maybe some of you even lived it... Im not that old. That period that created so many classic musical moments. Due to this, I thought we would start by adding a sound track for this post. Cool track this one... Not one of the disco classics that we are referring to, but a more modern take on the theme. This track is not the norm as far as disco music goes, neither is the 'Disco' that is reflected in Andrews book.
Lets juxtapose our soundtrack for the post with our first image from the book. Not the first image in the book, but one that sets the scene that Andrew is portraying in his journey through the small country towns of Lithuania where he traveled and sought out these 'Discos'. Its also one of my favourite images from the book as well.
We're not in Kansas anymore Toto!
I came across this gem of a book on a great website run by another Melbournian called The New Frame Photobooks. Eric from The New Frame has an amazing collection of books that he has kindly shared with us on his site. Its a dangerous place to spend too much time if you have your credit card at hand let me tell you. The New Frame provides a short synopsis of Disco that tells of its start as a crowd funded book. I really like the fact that people are starting to generate funding through the massive pool that is the internet for use to produce photo books. Its using the net for good rather than evil in some ways.
If you didnt know about The New Frame already then I would really recommend spending some time going through the amazing books that Eric has painstakingly provided a good selection of images from.
Back to the book in question... Andrew is an American with Lithuanian heritage who decided to travel to Lithuania and document these small out of the way towns. These underground and seemingly time warped events that are a part of the local communities.
There are a few things that really strike me about the book. One is the mix of people. Ranging from the seemingly normal, to the polar opposite. You get this impression that the people within the pages are sort of stuck somewhere in 1990. Just so we're clear the images for the book were made after from 2000, and the book took 10 years to complete.
The image above is well towards the normal end of the spectrum. Looks like any person that may be out at a club in any other country. People you see each and every weekend if this is the scene that you mingle in. The flash exposure on the subject and the black dark unassuming and nondescript background also adds to the inability to place this specific subject in any location.
I have a friend who I work with who is Lithuanian and I took the book to work one day for her to have a look at. When she was flipping through the pages she wasnt surprised by the attire of the guys. The black leather jackets and tight white t-shirts. Apparently this is the norm. The height of Lithuanian fashion.
The contrast seems to be more evident with the males and females. Although there are some great female subjects, none of them are that left of centre. The guys in the book on the other hand are all a lot like our friend above, or a variation on a similar theme. Hardened guys that look like they are out for a fight more than out to dance.
The fight side of things is plainly evident in a number of photos as well. From the bruises on faces of some of the subjects to the aftermath of the actual fight itself. Its clear that these are not the safest of places to go out of an evening.
The second thing that stands out we have already touched on in the first image in the post. The locations. The locations with the lights turned on. The locations in all their weirdness. Who holds discos in this sort of venue?
I have been to some dingy and dive like venues in Melbourne. I am sure that you have been to your fair share of weird and wonderful venues at some time in your life to dance the night away, or just to have a quiet drink for that matter. But these places? These places are a whole new ball game.
They are funny by nature. I dont think that someone could have planned this sort of shoot. With all of the careful preparation that would go with a location shoot, the authenticity of these images would not be able to be achieved. Not a chance.
Just a room in a house right? Nope... This my friend is a Lithuanian discotheque. The real deal. These are the venues that Andrew searched the country for. Driving long distances at strange hours of the morning, weird times of the night, and early into the day. Searching for the sound of the bass coming from the underground venues ensuring he was on the right track.
The rooms that are used for these makeshift venues are in many ways just as interesting as the people in the pages. In more ways than one the images of the rooms really compliment the subjects as well. That feeling of time warped existence plainly evident from the surroundings as well as the inhabitants. Although even the people who go to these places to socialise must feel that the venues are a bit of a step back in time.
I just cant imagine the types of things that would go on in these places with these people. The stranger thing is trying to contemplate how it became the norm in this sort of destination for these places to be the place where you would be seen. The place where you would go out with your peers for a night out. The place that is the equivalent of a Western Disco, or night club.
Places where when one asked their mates where they should go tonight, the response would be...
"How about that cool place with the pink walls".
I think I have described the two main subjects of the book. The people themselves, and the venues they socialise in. There is a third part of the book that Andrew has masterfully used to tie the two together. There is the story. The plot. There is a journey. Miksys has provided us with this insight into the journey. The travels that he undertook to find these images. There are these images that are used to tie the plot together in a way.
They show scenes of the roads and small towns that Andrew traveled to venture into the unknown. Images of things that he witnessed. Out of the way uninhabited almost desolate places that he traveled to get from one strange venue to another. That search for the music.
As we transition from inside the venues, with the subjects, to the journey scenes there is a really nice sense of continuation with the images. Although it is clearly not the case as the book was created over a 10 year period, it is conceivable that this is just a night out. A single night out. All the venues being hit one after the other in a foggy (both literally and metaphorically) journey.
There are events that have clearly taken place. We have the great image of the guy with the black eye. Clearly been in a bit of a scrap. This feeling of slight unease is cemented with some of the other images. But for some reason it almost feels normal.
Due to the nature of the book, and the way its laid out, you get the impression that the subjects are accepting of the way things are. This is their night. Its their venue. Its their local disco. They are the kings of the night. They are the queens of the dance floor. They are proud of what they have. Who knows if they dont know any other way, or if this is actually the way they like it.
I often hear people reminisce about the way things used to be back in the old rave days. The early 1990's in the Acid House period. The secret parties. The underground back room raves before a time when it all became popular and mainstream. Maybe this is something that is still available in the small back water towns of Lithuania. Maybe these people have the right idea.
The same as I would argue the I dont need the latest digital camera to make me happy. I dont need the latest technology and the best sensor. In fact I dont even own a digital camera that I use for my photography other than the small crappy point and shoot that I use to take time images of the books in these reviews.
Maybe the subjects in Andrews book know something that the rest of us dont know. Maybe they have the right idea. Maybe they have something that is pure and raw. Maybe they have something thats the way disco was. Maybe they have something thats the way disco should be. Maybe we can all learn something from them. Who needs the massive super clubs of big city living when there is a disco ball and a dance floor with a bass line to dance the night away to.
There is a video of the book that was a part of the crowd funding project. Its not often that youre able to read a book review and sit and flip through the pages in the comfort of your own home.
Youre able to get copies of Andrew Miksys Disco direct from Andrew himself. The quality of the book is really high. The binding and cover are very unique and high quality. The cover is padded and soft, and it really matches the feel of what one would expect of a real disco, another juxtaposition from the expectation and the actual images in the book. The print quality is really high as well.
If you would like to order a copy of the book then click HERE