Growing up in London, Derek Ridgers couldn’t have been better placed to document the burgeoning subcultures in the capital. Originally trained as a graphic artist, where one of his fellow students was Freddie Mercury, it was Ridgers’ love of music that eventually saw him take the first steps into photography.
Working as an art director within the world of advertising post art school, it was his love and fascination with music that led to him attending countless live performances of musicians that would go on to define an era. After being given a camera to try out, following an advertising job for a camera company, he decided to take up photography and leave the advertising world.
In the early 70’s he began taking photos at concerts with the camera given to him by the company, the first being Ron Wood, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend in London in 1973. Ridgers recalls ‘the seats my girlfriend and myself had bought were terrible, almost the very back row. I thought to myself, I’ve got a camera, why don’t I just go down to the front, climb into the pit and pretend to be a photographer?’. The rest is history. When the photos came back from being processed, he realized they weren’t all that bad. In the next few years, Ridgers began leaping over barriers and climbing onto stages to shoot live bands whenever he could.
As the seventies drew to a close, the emergence of Punk fascinated Ridgers no end. Photographing on a second hand camera, he shot very early photographs of The Clash, Adam and the Ants and The Slits amongst others. His work began gaining more and more airtime in popular magazines of the time including The Face and NME.
He became one of the most recognizable and prolific documentarians on British pop culture and the surrounding subcultures, largely due to his work within the punk scene but also with the new romantics, skinheads and fetish club scene. His early photography of skinheads meant he was often in danger of a hostile reaction from some, until he became fully accepted as an observer. Morrissey asked Ridgers for a print of one of his skins photos, and subsequently used it as part of his tour, on stage passes and also the stage backdrop.
At the inception of Loaded magazine in 1994, Ridgers was asked to contribute and eventually became cover/features editor, with the magazine circulating to over 400,000 people a month at its peak. His monthly feature, ‘Getting Away With It’, documenting mostly the fetish club scene, became one of the longest running features in the history of the magazine.
As well as his work documenting London’s subcultures, Ridgers has built up an incredibly vast collection of stunning portraits of music and film stars of the eras. Such varied names as Prince, Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, Kylie Minogue, Eazy-E, Johnny Depp, Neneh Cherry and Sonic Youth among hundreds of others have all had iconic portraits taken by Ridgers.
His work has been collated many times before, but his latest, and perhaps his best and most comprehensive book, was published this summer. The book collates images taken by Ridgers between 1978 and 1987, documenting the varied face of youth culture in the years after punk. The images not only serve as an incredibly fascinating and intriguing diary of culture and style in the UK during this time, but also as a demonstration of the spirit of youth and subcultural movements that, to this day, still punctuate the thick fog of a social media filled society.
For the AW14 season, London based Roundel have collaborated with Ridgers on a collection of graphic T-Shirts, featuring original photographs taken from the book. Inspired by the ever-changing face of London’s musical, fashion and artistic youth subcultures, Roundel reference iconic imagery and artwork of the London Underground. A match made in heaven.
Ridgers’ stunning portraits adorn the front of each of the T-Shirts; a glimpse into three differing styles of the time. On the rear are just about perfect graphics and typography; hand written quotes from film director John Maybury, and subtle Roundel branding. Not only do they present a great chance to own your own little slice of London’s subcultural history, but also a piece of one of the most important photographers of the last thirty years’ incredible body of work. This is London.
A shot from the Eric Clapton, Ron Wood and Pete Townshend gig which sparked Ridgers' love for photography, 1973.
Left: Pet Shop Boys, 1993. Right: Nick Cave, 1984.
Left: Morrissey, 1984. Right: Culture Club, 1982.
Sonic Youth, 1991.
Left: Eazy-E 1990. Right: Neneh Cherry, 1988.
All images by Derek Ridgers