Mr Bad Seed
Commissioned to shoot his first NME cover, renowned photographer and cultural documenter Derek Ridgers first met Nick Cave in May 1984, outside a tattooist near Elephant and Castle, London. The resulting cover photo captured the Australian musician lit up inside a tunnel, his floppy hair matching a louche half-tucked shirt, and his slender arms, hands and fingers outstretched as if he was conducting an invisible orchestra. ‘Down in the sewer a funeral is swinging!’ read the headline.
“He was friendly, chatty and quite compliant,” Ridgers tells us of first meeting Cave that day, “But what struck me most was that he really seemed to change once I pointed my camera at him. He always says he hates having his photograph taken but that isn’t how it seemed in 1984.”
From there, Ridgers went on to photograph Cave across four sessions, from 1984, the year Cave formed the Bad Seeds after his former band the Birthday Party had disbanded, and later through 1989, 1992 and 1997 – when the Bad Seeds were in full swing.
Now comes a bound curation of these archival images, presented as a covetable, limited-edition hardback book titled Grace. Conceived and designed by printmaker (and Nick Cave superfan) Danny Flynn, the publication comes wrapped in a rich blue cloth with gold foil titling, fronted by a black-and-white portrait of a scowling Cave, now fully suited as has become his trademark.
Throughout, Ridgers’ portraits capture Cave as he matures into the prolific showman and craftsman he is today – his messy hair begins to be slicked back, and debonair style tightens up. One particular image shows Cave standing in front of graffiti that reads ‘THIS IS A DISGRACE’, the photo is printed onto a perforated page using a vintage Heidelberg machine: “If you were to tear it out (but please don’t), you’d be left with Nick Cave and the word ‘grace’,” offers Ridgers.
“The term ‘iconic’ fits him like a glove.” – Derek Ridgers on Nick Cave
This isn’t not the first time Ridgers has published his portraits of Cave, in 2019 he compiled a zine dedicated to the singer. At the time Ridgers said to us: “Although he’d undoubtedly deny it, [Nick] actually seems to like to have his photograph taken, so he’ll usually go the extra mile to help you get an interesting image. Not that that’s particularly hard with Nick, since he always engages with the camera so well. Not to say gurns, occasionally.”
Grace is available now in a limited edition run of 1000 hardback book with slipcase, published by Burning Book Press.
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Photography by Derek Ridgers, 1984