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➤ 45 years of soothing egos and arresting our attention by portraitist Ridgers

Derek Ridgers Photographs, book, launch, party, pop-up exhibition,Sherrone,

“My favourite mid-80s muse”: Derek Ridgers signs his book for singer Sherrone from the 1988 band Savajazz

◼ DEREK RIDGERS BLAMES PUNK for turning him from a self-confessed pop fan who photographed performers into a considered photographer in 1976. “Almost overnight,” he writes, “the audience became more photogenic than the bands.” He didn’t stop shooting Jagger, Clapton, Richards, Ringo, Diana Ross, James Brown, the Pet Shops, Johnny Depp and their showbiz pals who are of necessity brazen exhibitionists. But this softly spoken London-born art-school graduate did then develop the knack of persuading life’s everyday misfits, clubland weirdos and sexual eccentrics to pose for uninhibited and seductive portraits that came to sum up the essence of their individuality.

Ridgers says his latest book, with its understated one-word title Photographs, is “my masterwork – my best photographs from the last 45 years”. In large-format hardback, exquisitely printed so that the ink provides the sheen on otherwise matte paper, its 240 pages capture an astonishing spectrum of moods and lifestyles.

Come to the party: click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

As an outsider looking in, his photographer’s eye sets out to find people whose appearance is uniquely striking or simply different, yet his instinct is to bring about “a moment of stillness and quiet contemplation” before his camera. By contrast, his book’s printed pages set unfamous showoffs (starting with cover-girl Michelle Carr) in competition with international celebrity egotists. This can create witty juxtapositions of subject yet there’s not an ounce of banality or cynicism. The most powerful images nail the internalised apprehension of the homeless and of some Quite Important People too: study the faces of Peter Cook, Don McCullin and Dennis Hopper; and unknowns such as the Deadhead, the Skin women, Sofia Staks and assorted skinheads.

As Ridgers tactfully navigates all extremes of id and ego, you’re likely to be surprised by how so many individual portraits, such as those of NWA and Snoop Dogg and even Kylie, arrest your attention, as the tragic Tuinol Barry’s has done in earlier books, and likewise Babs, the skinhead girl spotted in Soho in 1987. Ridgers says now of Babs, who had been through a children’s home: “We hardly spoke. Somehow I think we had a connection – even if it was only for 1/125th of a second. We were probably both outsiders.”

Across these varied social camps, note how few people smile at the Ridgers camera: across all these camps, the next page can reveal a real tear-jerker.

More partying: click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow

A FOUR-DAY POP-UP EXHIBITION

The Old Truman Brewery, London E1 6QR, is displaying selected images from the Ridgers book, curated by Faye Dowling to include an archive of original magazines such as i-D and The Face. It is open from 5 to 7 October, and our slideshows record an amazingly retro book launch party when faces from Derek’s past caught up with him. Derek Ridgers Photographs is published at £34.95 by Carpet Bombing Culture

➢ In one of Ridgers’ best interviews yet, this week’s Huckmag asks: What’s changed? – “About the only thing that’s changed during my lifetime is that there are different platforms now, mainly the internet. Once upon a time, when you bought a new outfit, you couldn’t wait to get out and show yourself off in it. Nowadays you never have to leave the house; you have Instagram.”

➢ This week’s London Live TV interview

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Ridgers casts an honest spotlight on the birth of punk

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➤ 40 years on, Ridgers casts an honest spotlight on the birth of punk

Derek Ridgers, punk ,Vortex , Clare Thom

“I didn’t make a very good punk,” says photographer Derek Ridgers, here snapped by a passing punk at the Vortex in 1977, with future Blitz Kid Clare Thom at right

◼ THE CLICHES ABOUT PUNK are the rage, the nihilism, the safety pins. In fact, punk dawned in 1976, like all British youth cults, as a fashion statement that trumped those clichés. A new and powerful photo book from Derek Ridgers titled Punk London 1977 shows in 152 pages just how considered were its style leaders who had to invent their own iconoclastic looks before they could be bought off the peg. There were no mohican haircuts at the Roxy club when it opened in December 1976 and for 100 days became the platform for Generation X, the Clash, the Jam, the Heartbreakers, the Boys, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees and a raucous wave of rebel music that spread to Soho’s Vortex and the 100 Club.

Ridgers says: “In ’76 the audience became more interesting than the bands.” As he turned his camera away from the stage, he focused on the unique characters in the audience who were creating a new movement through self-expression. “Most of the early punks didn’t look like punks anyway. They just looked like young people who would alter their clothes: very often it would be school uniform or there would be bin liners, a few safety pins but not very many. The ethos of punk is really ‘Do it yourself’. It’s not dressing up in leather and having a mohican.”

Click any pic below to launch slideshow

The book launched last night in Mayfair with a vibrant exhibition of its photos and a swell party hosted by menswear designer Paul Smith and the British Fashion Council. Rightly Vogue.com asked Ridgers yesterday: What did you wear while documenting these kids? He replied: “Often I’d be going to gigs straight from work, so I simply wore what I’d worn there—usually a jacket, open-neck shirt, and jeans. I was not a punk by any means.” There’s a key picture of the Damned playing the Roxy in early 1977 where Ridgers is visible in the top right-hand corner, standing on the stairs, in glasses, open-neck shirt, cardigan, smiling. “I didn’t make a very good punk,” he says. No, just a very perceptive footnote to history!

Dazed Digital probed further and asked: Out of all the scenes you’ve photographed, which have you most felt part of? Ridgers replied: “There must be a part of me that wanted to be part of all of them. I see my photography as a very vicarious thing. I suppose if I didn’t wear glasses and if I’d been a little bit more of a macho type of guy, I would have been a skinhead. I don’t think I could’ve ever been a punk or a new romantic.”

As an observer he carved out his own beat along the labyrinthine path British youth culture took during the exotic 80s and became the go-to lensman for his take on more extreme outsider cults. Ridgers told Dazed: “There were a lot of photographers around but I stuck it out longer. Woody Allen said something about success is 80% just being there. It’s the thing with me – I was there. I can’t make any other claims apart from the fact that I was there. Through everything. On the edge looking in. With a camera I was able to stare with some legitimacy.”

The trash mag Polyesterzine asks Ridgers if he could compare today’s Zeitgeist to any of the eras he had shot. “No, not at all,” he replies. “The late ’70s and early ’80s was a very different, much darker time. The streets of London were a mess. The poor guy [I photographed] who had ‘We are the flowers in your dustbin’ tattooed across his forehead had it exactly right. They did all seem like the flowers in a dustbin. . . Things are very different now because a lot of those little clubs don’t exist. Soho for instance, where nearly half my nightlife photographs were taken, is rapidly changing. There isn’t the same after dark frisson of excitement about the place any more. Gentrification and the need for developers to maximise the profit from every square inch of the place means that there just aren’t any scruffy, little basement clubs left. Those scruffy, little basement clubs were the area’s lifeblood.”

➢ Punk London 1977 is published by Carpet Bombing Culture

Adam Ant, Jordan, Vortex, punk, Derek Ridgers,

Derek Ridgers immortalises the night that the pioneering punk icon Jordan sang with The Ants at the Vortex, and says today: “They played far better music IMHO than when Adam became a big star in the 80s”

A GALAXY OF GALLERIES OF RIDGERS’ PIX

➢ At i-D – light on punk’s incendiary early days

➢ AllAccess Online in the cauldron of youth culture

➢ Dazed Digital pictures Punk London

➢ Accent shoots Brutus SS16 with Derek Ridgers

Captain Sensible , Damned , punk music, Roxy , Derek Ridgers

Captain Sensible fronts the Damned at the Roxy in 1977: spot Ridgers the cameraman top right in glasses and open-neck shirt. Photographed by Erica Echenberg

Don Letts, Andrew Czezowski , punk,Roxy

28 March 1977: deejay Don Letts and club promoter Andrew Czezowski outside the Roxy when it closed, three months after giving birth to punk. Photographed by Erica Echenberg

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