derek ridgers: youth culture in action
David Owen of IDEA Books speaks to London’s documentarian Derek Ridgers, about his new book, The Others.
Following Collier Schorr's Contacts, Willy Vanderperre's 635 and Youth Hotel by Gosha Rubchinskiy, IDEA Books' next project see them team up with photographer Derek Ridgers to present The Others, a collection of unpublished photographs taken in London clubs and parties in the 80s. Intimate scenes in the era's most seminal clubs such as Le Beat Route, Cha-Cha, Heaven, The Mud Club, and Cafe De Paris, these aren't your modern day blurry, drunken Instagram snaps, instead a timeless documentation of British youth culture in action. The book's subjects are purposefully "less identifiable as part of a clearly defined youth cult," according to Ridgers. "They are not all punks or skinheads or new romantics: these are the others."
Ahead of its launch this Friday, we asked David Owen of IDEA Books to discuss the electric atmosphere and colourful characters that punctuate Derek's photos, with Derek himself.
How old were you when you started taking pictures and did you start shooting in clubs straight away?
I would have been 22 or 23. I was an art director at an ad agency and was told by my boss to start using a camera. I worked on the Miranda SLR camera account. I started shooting rock shows from the audience: The Stones, Clapton, and others that may really frighten you.
I can well imagine. You still have the look of someone at an Eric Clapton gig. Pony tail and tall enough to obscure the view of anyone behind you.
I agree. The 80s ponytail is making a comeback now you know. Very soon I learnt to go to the front, bold as brass, and just hop over into the pit. There was little to no security at gigs then so if you pretended to be a photographer there was no one around to check or chuck you out.
And was it music that drew you into the club and party scene?
Totally. When I was a teenager myself there were only really discotheques. Not really any dance clubs other than The Flamingo, as far as I knew. I was a relentless gig goer in my teens. My first gig was The Jimi Hendrix Experience in December 1966. I was close enough to hand him his guitar picks.
So when you were taking most or maybe all of the photos in The Others you weren't being paid to shoot them. Even when you were a professional photographer. Presumably no one was buying these pictures. So why? What drove you?
When I first started taking photos of kids at gigs and then clubs, I simply had a compulsion to record what I saw. But pretty soon, I saw the value in trying to find an audience for my photographs. It was the ad man in me that made me want to show the world and the ad man chutzpah enabled me, from my West End office, to ring everyone to try to get them to see them. I thought nothing of just ringing up the editor of a magazine or someone like Sarah Kent at the ICA. When The Face started, they were a forty second walk from my office so that was one of the first places I went. I think people must have been startled by my bare faced optimism in my own work. Looking back at those photos now, 90% of them were rubbish but people were very interested in the people I photographed. Not so much my photos.
Well let's look at a picture now. It is brilliant because of her but also because of you. You have to be there and to be able to see it. There are millions of people at millions of parties every night all with iPhones and all with Instagram and they do not take that photograph!
I clearly remember taking it. It was taken at a skinhead house party in, or close to, Stoke Newington. I nearly got beaten up on the way there and stuff like that stays in the memory. A guy called Bonner saved me. He wandered over and said "he's alright" and I was left alone. I took plenty of other photos of her because she was so small and quite saucy looking. In most of the other photos she's smiling. I just snapped that one when her mask slipped a bit. In those kinds of environments people pretty soon forget someone is taking photographs. Also I'm quite quiet and still and I'm not getting in anyone's face.
I tell you one thing I've noticed about taking photos these days. Selfies and photos taken by people's computers are often fantastic. I've photographed several very impressive, creative people and their selfies were much, much better than my photos of them. I suppose they are working with a subject they love?
That's a great observation. They are probably more patient sitters for themselves than they would be for anyone else.
Often into mirrors too, which is a wonderful viewpoint, completely impossible for a professional to exactly replicate.
Tell me what you know about the cover picture. We find it really intriguing and beguiling.
Well I now know who the bloke on the left is. I didn't know for 34 years but Facebook worked its magic. I think that I asked him if I could take his photo. It might have been very dark and noisy so that often mitigates against anything other than the most basic communication. I like this photograph because all three of them look rather shy - not the normal peacocks at all.
He looks a bit like an Orange Juice or Aztec Camera fan... the Scottish Postcard records look -- unusual for London. That's why we liked the title of The Others so much. The most interesting people for us are the ones who are not just punks, skinheads or New Romantics -- they really are the others. You weren't a skinhead or a punk or a new romantic yourself but did you get on particularly well with any one youth cult?
I didn't really have any sort of simpatico with any of them really. I loved the functionality of the skinhead clothes and I'd tried to be one myself briefly around 66 or 67. The short hair more as a response to my dad's constant "get your hair cut" than anything. I hated the social and political views of most of the skinheads I photographed but most of them were polite enough to me.
In reality, if I could be a part of anything, I'd be a mid to late sixties hippy. I'm still a hippy in my head as must be quite obvious, don't you think? I love the pre-Raphaelites and listen to the Dead and Pink Floyd constantly. I'm not even really joking. I loved the optimism of the mid to late sixties. I liked the clothes, even the ridiculous ones. I loved the graphics of the period and most of all, I loved the ads. Bill Bernbach is my hero, as much as Jerry Garcia or Frank Zappa.
I was too old, or so I thought, to be a punk. I was 25 when it started. And a lot of the clothes were more comedy shock value than anything else. I could never have been a New Romantic either. I'm a little too awkward looking for high fashion and probably not quite camp enough either.
You are going high fashion now though: book launch at Comme des Garçons in Paris hosted by Kim Jones. Dinner at Caviar Kaspia. Just a typical Thursday night for you, right?
Oh yes, I'm never not out with the fashion crowd.
The launch of Derek Ridgers' The Others is hosted by IDEA and Kim Jones at Comme des Garçons Trading Museum, Paris on Thursday 12th November at 6pm-7.30pm.
The Others will be available exclusively at Dover Street Market London and New York, Marc Jacobs' Bookmarc stores in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Tokyo and online at idea-books.com.
Text David Owen
All photography © Derek Ridgers / IDEA 2015