When it comes to rock photography there are several legends that come to mind– Bob Gruen, Ethan Russell and Jim Marshall, for example. But Mick Rock, who died last week at the age of 72, stood out, embodying the charismatic mojo of his subjects, both stylistically and spiritually. We were lucky enough to interview him a few times and the thing that always struck us as different from the rest, was his enduring passion for capturing images and for finding new ways to highlight talented, charismatic and yes, iconic figures.
Never resting on his laurels, he got excited even in his later years if he discovered a subject that inspired him. Upon our first meeting, he decided that our own daughter (who was about 4 years old at the time) was that inspiration. We’d dressed her in a black and red vintage velvet dress and matching hair roses to attend an exhibit of his work at a trendy Silver Lake boutique called Confederacy, so we weren’t surprised she caught his eye. But the sight of this legend doing a full-on impromptu photoshoot, flipping his camera in different directions and walking around her to capture various angles and light (she hammed it up posing for him too) was unforgettably surreal and it said something about his approach to art and life. Everyone was special and cool in front of his lens.
A few years later, “Shooting For Stardust- The Rise of David Bowie & Co.,” celebrating his Taschen tome chronicling Ziggy Stardust in 70’s, brought his work to everyone’s attention (again) and cemented David Bowie’s alter ego’s icon status. The Starman, and Rock’s dear friend, would die the following year.
Shaggy hair and perpetual dark shades aside, Mick Rock was a rockstar in his own right. He had his struggles just like his subjects did too, which probably helped him capture their essence. If you haven’t, we highly recommend watching SHOT! the bio-doc about his life (and near-death), available for free on PLUTO TV, now. In the film he details his early struggles with drug abuse and provides a glimpse at his massive mess of amazing archives (we’ll probably never see the pictures he took of our child, sadly).
During our first interview, we discussed his most famous photographs and he provided some juicy behind the scenes insights into each. We’ve re-printed it below.
Dec. 21, 2010
Mick Rock’s Top 10 Iconic Rock Images, with Running Behind-the-Lens Commentary (and a Few Surprises)
Mick Rock has shot some of the most recognizable portraits in rock music history and he’s got, hands down, the best name in shutterbugdom. But with a candor and style that’s as palpable as any of his subjects, he is also just as cool. In L..A this weekend for a couple of events tied to his new book, Exposed: The Faces of Rock n’ Roll. We had a chance to chat with charismatic photographer, scooping some shot-by-shot exclusive commentary on what we both agreed are 10 of his most memorable images:
Rock‘s immense talent is a given, but by his own admission, some of his best shots came out of sheer luck, while others were the result of euphoric experimentation. Rock led a debauched, drug-filled lifstyle not unlike his subjects. In the book, he talks of “inner demons” and losing himself “in the fantasy of living on the edge 24 hours a day.” A near death experience in 2006 turned things around.
His recollections of those raucous times (and his work) may not always be vivid, but what he does recall is fascinating stuff. In the book, he indexes each shot with just enough info to provide insight and still preserve the mystique of the images. Exposed joins Rock’s impressive library of published works including photo tomes focusing on Glam Rock, Ziggy Stardust, Queen, Blondie, Syd Barrett, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Iggy, etc.
“I’m known as a glam rock photographer,” he told us. “But this new book shows a wider range.” Rock’s glam background will likely come in handy with a proposed new project, what he’ll only reveal as “a glam musical” for being discussed with a big producer, and maybe involving Toni Basil (who was at the private party in his honor at Confederacy Thursday night). Rock also says an art project in conjunction with Ziggy Stardust’s 40th anniversary might be in the works as well as bio-doc on the photog himself.
Here are the 10 most memorable Mick Rock photographs, with commentary:
- Bono and Lady Gaga, New York, 2006
(Shot at a private party at The Spotted Pig in New York after the ‘Gavin Friday & Friends’ show (Carnegie Hall). A great example of Rock’s gift for capturing candid moments and a shot that shows he’s still a major player in contemporary pop culture).
“It was a long night and Bono, who requested I shoot it, was in fine communicative form.”
“I don’t know where the forks came from [this was not a dinner]. It was in the hidden VIP room in the attic.”
- Debbie Harry, New York, 1978
(From a magazine cover session -for Bob Guccioni’s Viva, now long gone- around the time of Parallel Lines’ release).
“A shot with a blue background – and ironically, more clothing- from this session was used later for the cover of Penthouse.”
“I used Plexiglass backdrops and lit them red and blue for this session. She is exquisitely beautiful, but she’s always been one of the boys, which comes through.”
- Mick Jagger, London, 1975
(During the tour promoting Black and Blue, which also included a giant inflatable penis, a close-up of Jagger’s face proved more sensational than any prop. The angle of the mouth even resembles the Stone’s famed tongue logo).
“I have no idea what he was singing here but I like to think it was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” He looks like he’s singin “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” doesn’t he?
“I think he looks like a rooster here….the lips and the hair. This is always a popular shot in my exhibits.”
- Madonna, New York, 1980
(Bleeker Bob of the famous Grenwich Village record store, brought the aspiring singer to Rock’s Lexington Avenue photo studio to hang out).
“We took a few pictures, but I didn’t think anything about it -or her- really. She was unknown then, and didn’t particularly make an impression. But then, I was high on the hog at the time, so it’s a bit of a blur.”
- Ramones, New York, 1979
(Album cover for the Phil Spector-produced ‘End of the Century.’ The red background was a change for the band, who fancied grittier street shots for most of their promo pics).
“I was the third choice of photographer. They hated photographers.”
“They were difficult to shoot. Very stiff. Didn’t move a lot.”
“Linda Ramone has bought this print a couple times to give to friends.”
- Joan Jett, New York, 1981
(I Love Rock n’ Roll Album Cover. Indicative of the 80’s rock era and imagery with its bright hues).
“I got a phone call from their lawyer. They were in desperate straits. ‘Can we shoot tomorrow? he asked. ‘And no, you can’t meet her before.’
“To me, she was a female Elvis.”
“I came up with the color contrast of clothing and background. When you’ve done as much blow as I had in those days, you definitely see colors in a different way. ”
- David Bowie and Mick Ronson, UK 1973
(On a British Rail dining car during the last Ziggy Tour, this shot was released on Rock’s Ziggy chronicle, Moonage Daydream and quickly become a favorite of rock fans).
“A proper British lunch with peas, pats of butter and tea. It’s very prosaic as they look like they just bloody landed from another planet!”
“I did lots of shots like this, Ziggy sleeping, eating… These guys were my friends.”
- Lou Reed, London, 1972
(The cover of Transformer. A photo that manages to make a guy in makeup look tough).
“This was a performance shot (Lou’s first ever concert in Europe) that fell out of focus. But Lou loved it.”
“I don’t think any of us knew how iconic it would become. It stayed the course as the definitive image of Lou’s career. ”
- Iggy Pop, London, 1972
(The cover of Raw Power, shot at King’s Cross Cinema where the Lou Reed shot above was shot only the night before. Rock has the distinction of shooting two of the most famous album covers (live shots, no less) in two consecutive days! Even without this strangely wonderful coinicidence, this one is special).
“This one is unique because it captures a rare moment of stillness on stage.”
“Iggy had no say in the choice of the shot. His managers chose it. He hated everything that night -including this one- but he later told me he came to love it.
“He looks like an iguana to me here.”
And the most iconic Mick Rock image is…
- Queen, London, 1974
(This eerily over-lit cluster of faces was later re-created for Queen’s classic opera-inspired “Bohemian Rhapsody” video, and of course, it worked perfectly with the drama of the music. But the visual wasn’t inspired by the music as much as it was an old movie still).
“I showed Freddie a picture of Marlene Dietrich from Shanghai Express and he loved it.”
“The lighting was important, of course. The tough part was getting all four of them lit right.”
“Finding that Dietrich picture (a friend of mine had just given me a bunch of old Hollywood stills at the time) was a Zen moment.”
You can enjoy Rock’s images and even purchase some for the holidays now. See more info via his Instagram: