If you google subcultural style, a Derek Ridgers picture will be close to the top of the image search results. The 66-year-old has been taking pictures for more than 40 years, with mods, punks, skinheads and ravers all subject to his gaze. It’s over the last 10 that his name has been dropped by a new generation – largely thanks to books of his photographs from the 70s and 80s. 78/87, published in 2014, is now in its third edition. He’s since collaborated with Paul Smith on an exhibition and series of T shirts, and on Tuesday evening, he’s talking to Nina Manandhar of What We Wore about subcultures at the Truman Brewery in London.
Ridgers started taking pictures in his early 20s on nights out and at gigs when working as an art director at an advertising agency, and a camera brand became his client. “My boss told me to start taking pictures using their camera,” he remembers. “I was pretending to be a photographer at first so I could get closer to the band. I had Thomas from Blow-Up as a model, girls on tap and a convertible Rolls-Royce. Neither happened. I already had a family by that point.” Ridgers regrets not starting earlier. “I missed a lot of potential pictures,” he says. “I started going to gigs when I was 16 and was right at the front when I saw Hendrix. I could have operated his pedals for him.”
Instead, although Ridgers went on to work for the NME, it’s his images of the non-famous – the crowds at clubs like Billy’s and Taboo in the 70s and 80s, rather than the stars – that have stood the test of time, partly because they crackle with life and energy. There’s skinhead girls in feather haircuts and denim jackets, men at the Blitz in wigs and makeup, a punk with a peroxide crewcut holding a plastic cup in one hand, the other arm around a mate. It’s thanks to pictures like these that the word punk conjures up images of spiked hair and ripped jeans. They’re proto-street-style images, namechecked by designers and studied by young people out for a new look beyond the realms of Instagram.
Ridgers is reluctant to see them as totally reliable documents of style at any time, however. “If I was to go to a club I might take pictures of five people and the other 100 came straight from the office,” he says. “I have 1,000 pictures from the 80s but that’s not even a minute of reality is it?” As minutes go, though, it’s one we’ll be poring over for a while yet.