The Chronicler of Cool – Derek Ridgers

2 min read
Michael Stipe

Derek Ridgers has shot them all – Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Harris, Christopher Lee. Indeed, the photographer – who launches a new book ‘Derek Ridgers – Photographs’ (with an attendant exhibition in London) this October – has been shooting the famous, and infamous, for four decades. That’s pretty good going, seeing as he only got into photography as a way of getting closer to the bands he loved – it was music, rather than photography, that was his real motivator. That clearly worked out well – Jarvis Cocker, the Beastie Boys, Michael Stipe, Kylie Minogue and The Rolling Stones are among the many acts who have also been the focus of his distinctive eye.

But along the way somehow he became better known as one of the leading documenters of those avant-garde, grass roots sub-cultures that have shaped not just music but modern fashion, even culture at large – two-tone, punk, skinhead et al. As Ridgers has noted, he just happened to be there when these movements seemed to be exploding around him. They were at the margins of society, and that’s often where he chose to hang out with his camera.

Indeed, aknowledging the importance of these anonymous players in what would become seismic scenes, they’re given equal billing in the book with faces much, much more familiar. The book also presents previously unseen printed archive images and material for many of the seminal British magazines Ridgers worked for, the likes of ‘The Face’, ‘i-D’ and ‘NME’. They were, he’s noted, different times, in which creative cultures – driven by music, style or both – were given the freedom to slowly brew, grow and then articulate themselves; today the internet kills such movements as fast as it can spread word of them.

“From the 1940s through to the early 1980s, subcultures were allowed to gestate away from the critical gaze of naysayers,” Ridgers says. “So that before most people found out about biker gangs, beatniks and teddy boys, they have some shape and strength in numbers. But if anything interesting happens today, because of social media, by this evening the whole world will know about it. And by tomorrow the negativity will be out.”

Ridgers also has something to say about the nature of talent too. It’s not rose-tinted glasses, or the words of a man stuck in the past, but his time shooting celebrities, then and now, has suggested to him that there has been a loosening of the connection between fame and talent. Too many people now, Ridgers asserts, are famous for no good reason – manufactured, self-made, but with little to offer beyond their own image. That makes his book almost historic in its viewpoint. But also – if any are listening – a timely clarion call to youth to rise up and do something different and dynamic again.

‘Derek Ridgers – Photographs’ is published by Carpet Bombing Publishing.

All images copyright Derek Ridgers

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