Photographer Captures ’70s South Side Chicago Nightlife

Michael Abramson's 35-year-old photos published in new book

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Young photography student Michael Abramson moved to Chicago in 1974 to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology.

But it's what he found in the neighborhoods outside his classroom that left a lasting impression.

He started hanging out at legendary South Side nightclubs and lounges like Perv's House, Pepper's Hideout, The High Chaparral, The Patio Lounge, and The Showcase Lounge -- and of course, he took his camera.

"I was excited about photography, and I ended up walking into some of these places almost by happenstance and thought that this was a gold mine for photography. I wish I could say there was more of a thesis behind that, but it wasn't, it was just the excitement about photographing this scene," Abramson said.

What he captured was a stunning glimpse into the nightlife scene and culture of South Side black Chicago.

It took 35 years to find a national publisher for the photos, but the wait was worth it, in the form of the just-released book "Light: On The South Side."

"I feel fortunate, because the Numero Group, who put it together, did it with such a sense of respect, and a sense of importance, and their idea of putting the music into this document and the way they packaged the whole thing ... I don't think it could have been done better,"

Abramson, now 61, has had a successful photography career, shooting for publications such as Time, Newsweek and the New York Times, and teaching photography at IIT and Columbia.

But the photographs he took as a student hold a special place in his heart and reveal a distinct look at South Side Chicago's party culture, much different than the glitzier side of the disco culture.

"My identification with this world ironically was the pictures I saw of Paris in the '20s and '30s, so when I walked into this scene, I photographed it, and over the many years, the 35 years, I think I felt a sense of responsibility to these pictures in some way. It wasn't like I had this theory or intellectual idea, I just intrinsically had a responsibility to these pictures to get them in fixed form, and published," Abramson said.

Click here for more information on purchasing the book.

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