To mark Glastonbury’s 50th birthday, Derek Ridgers offers AnOther an exclusive look inside his festival photography archive
Derek Ridgers is perhaps the most prolific subcultural documentarian of his generation. Having turned his lens on the clubs and streets of Britain since the early 70s, he has photographed – and immortalised – skinheads, punks, New Romantics, and many other groups besides.
Ridgers has also documented music festivals, which are of course currently on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Glastonbury, the largest music festival in the world, would have been staged its 50th iteration this weekend – but instead, the fields surrounding the little village of Pilton in Somerset are musician- and muddy reveller-free. “I really have no idea what festivals will look like in the future,” he says. “Until there’s either a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19 I can’t really see much future for the festival in the near future. Until then, I suppose festivals will have to be virtual.”
In lieu of Glastonbury, and similar festivals that would have taken place this summer, Ridgers opens up his archive to AnOther and discusses his favourite festival photographs and memories.
“I’ve been attending pop festivals since the 1960s but I didn’t start photographing them until I became a full-time photographer in the early 1980s. Speaking as a superannuated hippy, what’s not to love [about them]? Everyone seems to want to forget about the struggles of everyday life and just tune in, turn on and drop out – although not necessarily in the chemical sense that was so popular in the 60s. The overwhelming vibe (a word that was almost invented for such occasions) is one of relaxation, happiness and geniality. Of course, many people say they can’t stand pop festivals, especially Glastonbury. But in my experience, when most people are actually there, they end up enjoying themselves.
“For a photographer who likes to photograph people, it’s an almost perfect event. There’s thousands of them, all over the place and they’re not going anywhere. It’s never about the music for me. I can go to the sort of pop festival where I know I’m going to hate virtually all the bands that are there – heavy rock, for instance – and I can still have a fantastic time because I’m very much focused on photography. Sometimes it’s even better if I hate the music because I don’t have to worry about missing a favourite band or something.
“[I took my favourite festival photograph at] the Tibetan Freedom Festival at the RFK Stadium in Washington DC in 1998. The first day had to be prematurely ended when there was a severe thunderstorm and several fans got struck by lightning – all of whom later recovered, I believe. At the height of the storm, when everyone was running around trying to take shelter, I photographed a very nice looking couple embracing in the middle of the concourse. They were completely oblivious. Just standing there, kissing and getting drenched. That is certainly one of my favourites.
“[My favourite festival memory] was one of the precursors of the pop festival. I went to the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in April 1967, when I was still a schoolboy. The whole event was magical. There were three stages and almost every hippy in London was there. The Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd played, as did Marc Bolan, with John’s Children. John Lennon was there and a not-yet-well-known Yoko Ono – who had not met Lennon at this point – was too, and she did her infamous Cut Piece. I was the first person to get asked to participate but I refused. I thought it was a wind-up designed to embarrass the unhip.”
Limited editions of Derek Ridgers’ iconic music portraits are available at Sonic Editions.