The photograph that shaped a career

Derek Ridgers has been photographing the biggest names in showbiz for more than three decades – but it all began by chance, one night in Finsbury Park, north London.

It was 13 January 1973, when Ridgers walked in to the Rainbow Theatre with a Miranda SLR slung over his shoulder.

At that time, he was working for an advertising agency that wanted him to learn how to use the camera – so, he had been taking it home to practise.

It was the night that changed his life, as on stage walked Eric Clapton along with Steve Winwood, Ron Wood and Pete Townshend, in what became known as the Rainbow Concert.

Ridgers was with his girlfriend, sitting at the back, with a poor view – but once the concert began, he made a move.

“Rather unchivalrously I got up, left Jo-Anne in her seat, ran to the front, hopped over the low wall into the photo pit and pretended to be a photographer,” says Ridgers.

“In those days, there weren’t many photographers at gigs and hardly any security.

“But I was putting myself in between the band and several thousand people.

“All of which could then see me almost as much as they could see the band.

“I must admit, I felt quite exposed.

“But at the same time, the excitement of being only a few feet away from my musical heroes was quite compelling.”

Ridgers recalls he had only one roll of film and one lens but did what he could – he was hooked.

From then on, he’d be at gigs, shooting stills of the performers as well other subjects, what he calls “the sort of photographic cliches that many amateurs start with”.

It wasn’t long before he started to turn his lens on the audience as much as those on stage. And with the emergence of punk, in 1976, he had a new look to document.

“Almost overnight, the audience became more photogenic than the bands,” he says.

Two years later, his portraits were hanging in the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in London.

And by the beginning of the 1980s, Ridgers had left the advertising world and was shooting for publications such as the New Musical Express (NME), The Face, and many of the leading magazines.

Ridgers’s exhibition, curated by Faye Dowling, can be seen at Artblock, at the Old Truman Brewery, east London, 4-7 October.

All photographs copyright Derek Ridgers.

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