CAPTURING BRITISH YOUTH CULTURE

  • Maisie Jane Daniels

Interview Maisie Daniels and Stuart Mitchell - archive images courtesy of Derek Ridgers

You can’t hear the name Derek Ridgers without it being followed by the term ‘youth culture’. With Britain in the ‘70s and ‘80s seeing subcultures energetically emerge such as punk, skinhead, and the mod revival, Derek saw himself turning the camera away from the bands he was seeing perform and into the crowd. Armed with his Miranda camera and an incredible eye for detail, it has resulted in a beautifully raw and extensive catalog. Spanning back over 40 years, it is quite remarkable how many characters he has captured by his lens.
A self-proclaimed non-conformer to a particular trend, Derek had the ability to dip between the different emerging subcultures and capture some truly special, and in turn, historical documents. All of which are timeless images that provide a snapshot into an era that so many of us look back upon with admiration and in some cases, recollection.
We had the great pleasure of meeting Derek accompanied with a friend, and fellow photographer, Stuart Mitchell (aka walnutwax) at The Photographer’s Gallery - where else? Where we, three generations, sit and chat openly about the underground club scene, the essence of youth and the future of documentary photography.
Maisie Daniels: So Derek, it all started when you went into the clubs back in the ‘70s and you started photographing the bands, is this right?  Derek Ridgers: Well, I started photographing as soon as I got hold of this Miranda camera in ‘73. My girlfriend – and now wife - Jo-Anne and I had gone to see Eric Clapton at The Rainbow in Finsbury Park - it’s a Brazilian Pentecostal church now. We were right at the back and I had this Miranda camera with me by chance and I thought: ‘Well, I could run to the front and pretend to be a photographer’. In those days there wasn’t much in terms of security to throw you out and in some places, there was no security - the only people that did security were the bands' roadies. Anyway, I ran down the front, jumped over the wall and pretended to be a photographer. There weren’t many photographers there anyway - maybe one or two - and that’s how it all started.
M.D: You’re known for photographing British youth subcultures however, you didn’t appear to put yourself in a subculture. If you were, where would you see yourself? D.R: Well, I tried to be a part of a few when I was a teenager. I would have liked to have been a mod when I was 15, but I had no money. You see, you do need decent clothes, even if you don’t have a scooter like the mod’s had in those days. One of my friends had a scooter, I tried to drive it and it was a disaster! I’d never driven one before and I’ve never driven one since. Even in the short space of time, I got myself into a right pickle with someone who was washing their car…I ran over all their stuff, I couldn’t stop. They must have thought that I was doing it on purpose.
M.D: And what were you, Stuart?  Stuart Mitchell: I tried to be a mod also, but I was like a second-generation mod so, in the late ‘70s into the ‘80s. I liked The Jam, The Stranglers etc.
M.D: Was Jo-Anne part of a subculture?  D.R: No, I suppose she was a very mild version of a hippie when I first started going out with her, which I suppose I was as well at the age of 18/19. I went from school being a kind of cheapo version of a skinhead to a combination of skinhead and hippie for a short while because of the finances.
M.D: I guess that the hippie is one of the cheapest subcultures! D.R: Well, I guess so. And I was still living at home with my mum and dad and they were against everything, especially my father. He didn’t like long hair, he didn’t like short hair.
M.D: Do you think your relationship with your parents had any impact on you becoming a photographer?  D.R: Oh yes, a huge impact on my life really. I owe everything to my parents as to how I am. I was an only child and it took me a long time to mature and I don’t think that I got any level of proper maturity until I was well into my 40’s.
MD: And what was the attraction for you to start photographing these different subcultures?  D.R: I didn’t ever decide to do that you see; I’d been photographing bands and all the best musicians that I could get up close to for 3 or 4 years. The Rolling Stones, Betty Davies, Kokomo, Labelle, Vinegar Joe, The Kursaal Flyers. Any good bands that were visual, I’d go and photograph. The thing was though; some bands weren’t very ‘visual’ so I wasn’t bothered. Anyway, at the end of ‘76 I was photographing The Vibrators at Kingston Poly and when they came on, the audience started going ape-shit, and I turned around and I thought, “actually, the audience is a lot more photogenic than the band”. And I wanted to photograph them but at that point, I didn’t have the gumption to do it, I had to work up to it.