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Skinheads: 1979-1984

by Derek Ridgers
23 January 2014 13 Comments

An intimate portrait of the English skinhead scene between 1979-84...

Almost all of my photographs of skinheads were taken between the summer of 1979 and the summer of 1984, and the vast majority in the earlier of those years.  They were taken either in London or in some of the seaside towns easily accessible from London.  Some first appeared in a show called ‘Skinheads’ at the Chenil Studio Gallery in Chelsea, in October 1980.

Back then, I wasn’t a professional photographer, (in truth, not even a particularly keen amateur) and to begin with, I hadn’t intended to start photographing skinheads at all. Rather, they found me.

In early ’79 I was already engaged in what eventually turned out to be a lengthy photographic study of the New Romantics (though back then they were not known as such).

I’d been documenting this nascent scene in the Soho nightclub ‘Billy’s’ and, one evening, a group of about half-a-dozen skinheads turned up.  They saw me taking photographs and one of them, a guy called Wally, asked me if I’d like to take some photos of them too.  They seemed pretty friendly and not at all camera shy.  I took a few snaps, we got talking and Wally suggested I go with the whole gang on one of their Bank Holiday jaunts to the seaside.

Back in the early ’80s, I turned down a couple of opportunities to turn the photographs into a book. I didn’t want either to glorify the skinhead lifestyle or become an apologist for them

That was what led, eventually, to five years of photographing skinheads.  In those five years I got to know some of the skinheads quite well and liked many of them.  Almost all were polite and courteous to me.  I saw virtually no violence, just a handful of scuffles.  If I had seen any fighting, I certainly wouldn’t have photographed it for the simple reason that I wouldn’t have wanted the presence of me and my camera to affect the situation.

Other than that, there was no self-censorship.  I wanted to remain objective (although I later came to believe that to be impossible).  Susan Sontag famously wrote that “the photographer is not simply the person who records the past, but the one who invents it.”  I certainly hope this isn’t the case with my photos.  They were all chosen to be displayed on the basis of two criteria: if I thought it was a good photograph; or if I thought it helped to tell the story.

Back in the early ’80s, I turned down a couple of opportunities to turn the photographs into a book. I didn’t want either to glorify the skinhead lifestyle or become an apologist for them.  And I still don’t.  My political and social views were not the same as most of the skinheads of that time but I hope the photographs can now speak for themselves.

Skinheads is available now. Click here to buy a copy, and here to read why Morrissey used the ‘two girls’ image on his Your Arsenal tour…

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Darren Halford 3:49 pm, 9-Jun-2011

Always loved your work Derek. Are you going to hold an exhibition any time soon? Skinhead reportage works both as a social and fashion document. It's great to see what they're wearing, and if one looks a little deeper, what is happening culturally too. All the best.

Derek Ridgers 5:44 pm, 9-Jun-2011

Thanks Darren. I've been offered a show next year at Ketchum Pleon in Spitalfields. I'm now focussed on trying to find a publisher for my next project in order to coincide with that.

Darren Halford 11:09 pm, 9-Jun-2011

Well let me know if it takes place and I'll be there.

terry 7:41 pm, 15-Jun-2011

boneheads ... no OG skinhead style on show.

Jon Wilde 9:04 pm, 16-Jun-2011

Simply, brilliant photos. Derek is one of the greats. A wizard, a true star. I love that man.

Rae 6:43 pm, 18-Jun-2011

thirty years on and these images still make me shudder. You were very lucky not to see violence around the skinheads you were photographing. Being in school with them was not so pleasant and neither was walking through Coventry City Centre on a Saturday. Your images have sent me back to dark times and therefore I guess, are good.

Mick Myers 9:45 pm, 29-Jun-2011

In 1970's Liverpool at school we wore our Ben Sherman's,bovver boots and braces and we must have looked quite intimidating......the culture had actually started around 1969....by the time your photo's were taken it had died out in Liverpool to be replaced by the casual's

Shaun H.C 9:37 pm, 11-Mar-2013

Remember seeing Skinheads in the Essex town that i grew up in and them scaring the shit out of me just by their presence. I eventually got into the Scooter scene in the early 80's and there were loads but mainly all good natured and lovers of reggae. A minority were Racist and just wanted to confront anyone who looked at them the wrong way. Nice pictures by the way..

Maxine 4:42 am, 15-Dec-2013

I am 'Wally's' daughter! Thank's goes out to all of you skinhead boys for all of the amazing story's I got to hear growing up...(and skinhead girls) Some of you will know he moved to New Zealand near the end of the 80's but even all the way over here we grew up on the best ska, reggae, rock steady and dance hall. I always had kids after my music growing up. Any who, for any folk that was wondering Dads just turned 53, and he still gets his knees up to his chest to a good ska track. Keep the rudeness alive. Peace.

Cock suckin dickblower 7:22 pm, 23-Jan-2014

Suck my fuckin cock you fuckin dick suckin queer

Tommy 5:02 pm, 28-Jan-2014

To be fair, I don't think any of the above except possibly the lads with the SkinheadS flag (Where they look like SS runes)are Boneheads (Nazi Skins). Several of them have Madness or other ska related badages of anti-rascist bands so I guess they were all trad skins?

archie coull 11:03 pm, 23-Feb-2014

hi derek,you didnt potray us bad like the rest of the media did at the time,so hats of 2 mr derek ridger all you skins,rats,god bless all the fallen!

Paul turbo 10:54 am, 20-Jun-2014

I was a skinhead from 1979 to 1981 I was one of the ones who was at Southend in 1980 on a bank holiday and the police penned us in against the street railings. and the newspaper took our photo & I found my self on the front page of the paper my dad wasn't happy lol if you want the photo please contact me Cheers Paul

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