◼ WHAT ARE THE ODDS on any photographer having an iconic photograph included in the exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Sunday Times Magazine, the UK’s first newspaper colour supplement? Launched in the dull days of 1962 when papers appeared only in black-and-white, as did TV, the mag proclaimed itself the paper’s Colour Section to point up its USP. Since then it must have published at least 250,000 pages, so the odds of being shown in the powerful new exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery are stacked against most of its contributing photographers. Only 60 were chosen for the show.
This elegantly mounted selection of 100 historic pix, plus various supporting mementoes, packs a surprising punch. The vitality of the huge images is an object lesson in what makes photographic magic.
Right from the off, the Mag established its benchmark: “photographer first”. In Feb 1962 the 24-year-old David Bailey’s launch issue cover shots at Chelsea Reach showed the model Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mary Quant outfit and announced the dawn of Swinging London. Inside pages featured pop artist Peter Blake five years before he designed the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album sleeve, and a short story titled The Living Daylights by 007 author Ian Fleming.
In the words of Michael Rand, the Mag’s art director for 30 years, its credo was “grit plus glamour — fashion juxtaposed with war photography and pop art”. This meant serious investment in photo-reportage from the world’s troublespots. He went on to champion the work of Eve Arnold, Snowdon, Terry O’Neill, Brian Duffy, Richard Avedon, Eugene Richards, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark. Rand says he felt a great responsibility to project the honesty of their pictures. Risking his life in the warzones of the late 20th century, Don McCullin survived sniper bullets to return with some of the century’s most haunting pictures, and to write movingly of the impact on his own soul from having witnessed at first hand the pain and the pity of shell-shocked soldiers and starving children in Biafra, Vietnam and Northern Ireland. In 1989, Stuart Franklin, onetime president of the Magnum agency, leant out of a hotel window to give the world the unforgettable image of a young man single-handedly halting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.
All the more reason to be extra-impressed at last night’s party launching the exhibition to meet my old ally on London’s clubbing scene in the 80s, Derek Ridgers. You know his pictures of everyone within a mile of Steve Strange, king of the posers, because they’re all over this website, and as half a dozen key Blitz Kids well remember, he snapped their first published group shot at the Blitz for the ST Magazine in April 1980. Last night Derek had been chatting on and off for at least half an hour while we sidestepped the namedroppy media luvvies and posey models to mingle with the veterans Mike Rand and Beatle biographer Hunter Davies, ST picture editor Ray Wells and snapper Uli Weber (standing in front of his demonic pic of Boy George sprouting a pair of satanic horns, while his pic of Kylie Minogue in the bath is on the poster for this show).
Eventually Derek, who is modest to a fault, asked if I was carrying a camera and I had to say no, thinking it a bit uncool at a swanky champagne bash for 700 media A-listers (which was obviously his view too since his own holster was empty). We did then discover that we were both toting the same unsmart workhorse Nokia 6300 mobile with 2Mp cams onboard. OK, they’ll do, so would I mind taking a pic of him beside his own exhibit at the end of the gallery? Excuse me, Derek? Nice old mild-mannered Derek with his long hair tied in a tail, and knapsack over his shoulder? Renowned for his book full of skinhead and punk portraits, not to mention the dodgy habitués of sexclubs like Skin Two, of David Claridge vintage? Derek’s IN this show? Yes he is. Even with the odds stacked at 250,000 to one against, it’s true. “I was amazed when they sent me an email asking if they could show this photograph,” he said. “So I said, yes, I didn’t mind.” How cool is that?
What we see is a charismatic mugshot of wrecked old Scary Stone, Keith Richards, snapped back in late 1985 when the face of the “10th greatest guitarist of all time” was engraved with a tiny fraction of the million lines it boasts now. He was settling into his marriage to the model Patti Hansen, and Derek persuaded the rock star to pose for him after a chance encounter at the Savoy hotel in London. He says: “There was no KR entourage whatsoever. He couldn’t possibly have been any more helpful. I guess that’s what makes him the guy he is.”
Full marks for initiative, Derek. In 2012 The Sunday Times remains the UK’s best-selling quality newspaper. In the season of Oscars and artsy prizegivings, to be included among the 60 top photographers in the life of its mighty Magazine is pretty well the best gong a lensman can win.
➢ Update: The Sunday Times Magazine 50th Anniversary Exhibition runs at the Saatchi Gallery, London, was scheduled to run until Feb 19, excluding Feb 11–14, now extended to March 18. Entry is free. The Magazine published a dedicated anniversary issue Sunday, Feb 5.
➢ Update: The free exhibition 50 Years of The Magazine goes on tour — Paintworks, Bristol Mar 24–April 3, Cube, Manchester April 11–23, Waterhall, Birmingham May 22-June 2