“Al just struck up a rapport with people,” says Martin Barnes, senior curator at the V&A Museum, of the photographer Al Vandenberg, whose new book, On a Good Day, depicts London street life in the 1970s and 1980s. “He was a very charming personality, he was very low-key, and you can tell that the people who engage with him – they’re at ease. It’s very hard to make street portraits like that now and have that lack of wariness or defensiveness … There’s a huge warmth in them.”
Vandenberg grew up near Boston, and studied photography alongside Richard Avedon and Bruce Davidson. Until recently, he was best known for working on the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but after a successful start in the music scene in the 1960s, Vandenberg moved away from commercial photography and quietly concentrated on his own street portraits instead. He died in 2012, but this will be his first photo book. “I think it’s only in the last five to ten years that those pictures have really been seen very much and appreciated properly,” says Barnes.
The photos in the new monograph capture the wildly diverse subcultures of London at the time, from mods and rockers to punks and new romantics, all of whom had their own neighborhoods and hangouts. In each image, the subject looks directly into the camera, usually with a little attitude and a smile. “Al used to speak very simply about the pictures,” says Barnes. “He just liked this optimism of youth, and the free styling of streetwear. People would assemble different kinds of things, and it didn’t have to be expensive clothing.” Click ahead to witness the photographer’s early take on street style.