Derek Ridgers: The Others
 
As Derek Ridgers new book The Others published by Idea, begins to be slotted neatly into book shelves across the world, we caught up with the British photographer to find out more. 

Gregory Barker: How did you first become interested in photography. 

Derek Ridgers: I think I’ve always been interested in photography but I wasn’t at all interested in taking photographs myself when I was young.  I went to art school when I was 16 and there was a photography department and photography lessons but I didn’t listen and didn’t care.  I wanted to be a painter and was focused entirely on that.  

But I used tear out photos of things that interested me and keep them, right from my early teens.  Like most heterosexual young men, there were lots of photographs of women but my interests went much wider.  Film stills, cars, sport, design and great architecture.

I was 22 or 23 before I picked up a camera and took a photograph of anything other than my own family and, even then, it was because I was told to do so by my boss at work (I worked on the Miranda camera account, as an ad agency art director).  I didn’t actually own a camera until I was 24.  


GB: What was it that drew you to photograph youth culture?

DR: To begin with music.  I was taking photographs of rock bands that I liked but not because I really wanted to photograph them.  Initially, I was pretending to be a photographer, simply so that I could go up to the front of the stage and be a bit closer to the bands.  But I found I gradually developed an interest in the photos I took.  

By 1976 the audience at gigs had started to get a lot more photogenic than some of the the bands and so I swung my lens away from the stage.  That’s what led directly to me turning up to the first night of the London punk club, The Roxy.  And that’s when I started to take myself more seriously as a photographer.

GB: You made images with a broad range of sub-cultures, did your approaches differ? 

DR: Not really.  When I was photographing skinheads and teddy boys I was a lot more careful, that was all.  Both those youth groups could be temperamental and one didn’t want wind up with a mouthful of knuckles.  Or worse.

GB: Your new book is called ‘The Others’, could you talk me through why?

DR: This is a question that could be better answered by Angela and David, my publishers, because the book was entirely their idea.  They wanted to publish some of my unseen (or at least, mostly unseen) images from the early ‘80s.  These images were on my computer in a file called The Others.  My meaning was simply; not ones that had been published in my other recent books.

But Angela and David explained it to me as young people a little bit outside the mainstream and which did not fit into easy categories like punks, skinheads or new romantics.  They were ‘the others' in that sense.

Of course, these photographs were taken during the rise of Margaret Thatcher and a lot of young, working class people felt cut adrift and disenfranchised and so they were the ‘others’ in another sense too.

GB: Throughout the book, there are photographs of couples embracing - did you ever encounter any issues photographing these tender moments? 

DR: Not at all, the opposite if anything. Sometimes I’d ask people that were kissing, they gave their assent and just carried on and ignored me, which was perfect.  Sometimes I asked couples that weren’t kissing and they spontaneously started.  I never had anyone object.

Sometimes, if I saw a couple kissing and I thought my approach would kill the moment, I would take the photograph first and then ask.  None of those people ever objected either.

Some of these photographs were taken for my 1982 show at The Photographers Gallery called 'The Kiss'.  I photographed people all over the place kissing and sometimes, from some distance away. I simply did not have the opportunity to ask them all.  After a while, it dawned on me that some of the couples I caught from a distance might not have been with their partners.  So I stopped doing that.   But I included a few in the show so that the photographs weren’t all too similar.

GB: The images in the book are taken over a 3 year period, its strange to think that so many sub-cultures existed at the same time when you look at todays harmonised culture. Do you find it as interesting making photographs today?

DR: Absolutely.  If one is not fully engaged in a medium like photography, it’s best to find something else to do with one’s time.  Even more so in an environment where everyone has a camera and there are so many millions of photographs being taken and shared online every day.

I feel as engaged and in love with the process of taking photographs today as I felt 40 years ago.  I seldom do the same kind of photographs these days as I did then but none of my enthusiasm has waned.  

Buy 'The Others' here

— Gregory Barker
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