Carefully coiffed cross dressers and bell bottomed dancers bumping the nights away in the smoky clubs of Chicago’s South Side in the mid 1970s. It was a far-out party scene that brimmed over with style and free expression to the sounds of blues, disco, funk, and soul. A photographer from New Jersey, Michael Abramson, became so infatuated with this slice of underground life that he took more than 5,000 photographs for his thesis while attending Chicago’s IIT Institute of Design. They were unobtrusive black-and-white images captured as Abramson himself became a welcomed part of the scene at legendary clubs like Pepper’s Hideout, the High Chapparal, the Patio Lounge, Showcase Lounge, and Perv’s House, owned by Pervis Staples after his retirement from pioneering group the Staple Singers.
Now, 30 of these legendary photographs will be on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music March 1 through September 4, 2022 in an exhibit titled “Love in the Club,” all in display in a gallery set up to resemble a combination of Chicago’s legendary nightspots and Memphis’ own R&B palace hot in that era, Club Paradise.
Abramson’s provocative photographs have been published so far in two major hardback books: Light: On the South Side by the Numero Group in 2009 and Gotta Go Gotta Flow by City Files Press in 2015. Both were multimedia releases, the first accompanied by two LPs of blues music likely playing in the clubs at the time that earned a GRAMMY nomination, and the second pairing his South side images with slam poetry by the acclaimed writer Patricia Smith. The Stax Museum exhibit will be based on Gotta Go Gotta Flow and will also feature some of Smith’s poems.
Abramson went on to become a commercial photographer and photojournalist who traveled the world and photographed many notables from Oprah to Steve Jobs before his death in 2011. These South Side photographs have been compared to the work of the great Hungarian photographer Brassai, who captured the seedy and sensuous Parisian nightlife of the 1920s and 30’s.
Today Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and the California Museum of Photography.