Derek Ridgers’ seminal street portraits of 80s London youth

Derek Ridgers’ seminal street portraits of 80s London youth
A new book brings together a collection of the photographers never-before-seen photographs of punks, skinheads, New Romantics, goths, ravers, and fetishists at the height of Thatcherite Britain.

Long before he picked up a camera, British photographer Derek Ridgers was deep in to London’s music scene. His first show was the Jimi Hendrix Experience right after they formed in 1966. “It was really the music that brought me into photography,” he says.

As a young father with a family to support, Ridgers took a job in advertising and started photographing bands on the side during the mid-70s. But it wasn’t until the emergence of punk that his street portrait practice came into focus. Between 1978 and 1987, Ridgers devoted himself to chronicling a new generation of youth who set polite society ablaze with a delicious blend of attitude and insouciance.

Letty, Kings Road, Chelsea, 1984;
Name unknown, Kings Road, Chelsea, 1987.

Now Ridgers revisits this iconic era in The London Youth Portraits (ACC Art Books), a sumptuous collection of never-before-seen photographs of punks, skinheads, New Romantics, goths, ravers, and fetishists. Taken on the streets of Chelsea, Soho, Brixton, and Mayfair, as well as in legendary nightclubs like the Blitz, Batcave, Taboo, and Camden Palace, the book unfolds as timeless portrait of the London underground during Margaret Thatcher’s reign.

Ridgers made these photographs during a pivotal time in his career, as he shifted from amateur to professional photographer. During fall 1978, the ICA organized his first solo exhibition, Punk and Chips: Some Punk Photographs by Derek Ridgers and consequently published in the legendary Italian photography magazine, Zoom. “The first few years, my MO [method of operation] was very haphazard,” he remembers. “After that, I started to take myself a bit more seriously.”

By the mid-1980s, Ridgers was shooting music and nightlife for NME and The Face magazines, but remained unwavering in his devotion to documenting London’s radical chic. But it wasn’t until the rise of social media that he would learn the fates of those he photographed.

Tuinol Barry, Kings Road, Chelsea, 1983;
Charlotte, Notting Hill, 1982.

“I managed to reconnect with so many people and some of them have lived very interesting lives,” Ridgers says. “A lot of them never really made it out of the ‘80s. Some of them didn't even make it out of the year that I photographed them. A lot of these kids were on a very steep trajectory. The guy on the cover, Tuinol Barry, died sometime in the ‘80s. I’m friendly with his daughters and they are quite proud of him.”

Being older than the teens, Ridgers always took care to make sure the people he photographed were given their proper respect. The portraits became collaborations, a moment of mutual recognition between artist and muse that crackle with intensity, vulnerability, defiance, and strength.

“There’s a woman I photographed in a fetish club for a magazine, I don’t think she was wearing very much,” Ridgers remembers. “Maybe five or six years later, she told me that at the time, she was living on he streets and wasn’t doing well, and that photograph helped give her a little bit of confidence to change her life.”

“Next year will be my 50th year photographing in clubs and I think I’m going to call it a day,” says Ridgers

Alex, Hounslow, 1980

The London Youth Portraits (ACC Art Books) is out now.

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