Mick Rock Exposes His Memories
Mick Rock has an enviable repertoire; he’s not only photographed everyone from Lady Gaga to The Ramones, but he’s also the man behind the lens of some of the most iconic photographs of rock and roll, including being the official photographer for David Bowie’s legendary Ziggy Stardust tour. With his exhibit EXPOSED at Sumo Gallery drawing to a close, we interviewed the legendary photographer (and one of my personal favorites) about the photography world then and now, and about a few of his favorite memories working with the gods of rock and roll.
You have photographed everyone from Queen and the late Lou Reed to contemporary artists like Daft Punk and Snoop Dogg. How is the music industry different from your early days as a photographer and now?
It’s a completely different world. The rate of usage now is so different, you can display your work at any time and direct people to it very easily online. Which I think is great – the key thing is to get your work out there. My photos were put away for ages, I look through them now and so many were forgotten.
You’re known as "The Man Who Shot the Seventies" but you were also the man who shot Ziggy Stardust. What was it like to photograph David Bowie at this point of his career?
The man’s a genius, what can I say? I was 22 when I met him and my opinion then is the same as it is now. He’s an unbelievably brilliant man.
‘EXPOSED’ highlights not just your musical ventures but also features photos you’ve taken of Kate Moss and on set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, amongst others. With so much diversity in your work, what draws you to projects?
It’s all about the energy and if it’s an artist their music of course, how they dress and look. Sometimes I’ll instigate a shoot and sometimes it happens the other way round. I didn’t stop shooting in the 70s; I kept on going and now is a very exciting time for photographers. You’ve got the immediacy and you don’t lose anything– back then it was all about a concrete master image. Today everyone’s a photographer – which I think is a good thing as it breeds more creativity, competition and overall more fun. Now the visual world dominates.
You were very close to the artists you photographed in the 70s. How did those relationships come about? Were you their friend or their photographer first?
Syd Barrett was my first subject that anyone cared about and he was a friend. I certainly wasn’t thinking of being a photographer when I was with him. When I met David it was at a shoot and I interviewed him. I got to know people mainly because we were living the same life, we all lived modestly back then and were peers. There wasn’t so many things to do like there is today, so there was a lot of hanging out and getting to know people really very well.
What is one of the best memories you have of photographing the 70s? What is one of the best memories of recent?
70’s – I could operate under the radar back then as there wasn’t so much media. Artists could build up an aura and energy and Iggy, Lou and David had loads of material before they ever made it. This helped them mature as artists. Now fame can be immediate and so intense, I think I got paid about £300 for the Queen cover I did and I designed, directed, shot and created it.
Recent – Daft Punk were interesting, I remember the outfits were on then the camera was there and then afterwards we hung out and they were the most quiet, skinny, sweet French guys. There was no way you’d think they’d be the powerful monster that is Daft Punk. Now the artists have too much to do – promo, shoots, thinking about their image in the public eye. There’s not as much partying as in the 70’s. My last exhibit was in 2010 and ever since then I can see the step up within tech, media and machinery.
How did you first get started in the photography world and when is the moment you realized you had ‘made it’?
I never thought I’d made it. Well maybe after the Ziggy Stardust shoot, when I got lots more commissions and at that time my friends were becoming more famous. I liked doing it and I didn’t think more beyond that. It was in the late 90’s when people started to be interested in my work from the 70’s and in 2000 everything kicked off for me. In my case my images are more famous than me and my name and reputation. Modesty came because of the people I was with.
This exhibit is paired up with the release of a book by the same title, marking yet another career success under your belt. What is your next dream project and who is the next dream collaborator?
My dream project is happening next year. A book with Taschen and David Bowie, where we’ve collaborated together.
If you could have a dinner party with three of the people you’ve photographed, who would you choose and why?
– Snoop: He’s a riot. Brilliant and very entertaining.
– David Bowie: An unbelievably articulate individual who has been such an important part of my career.
– Phil Lynott: I’d like to bring him back. His death was untimely and Thin Lizzy should have been massive all over the world in my opinion. Also would be good to have an Irishman at the table.
Can you share a story with us behind one of your favorite photographs?
My favorite depends on the day of the week or the week of that month and varies. I do remember a certain session with Lou though, who I had a 40 year professional relationship with after I shot him for the Transformer cover. Most people don’t realize how funny he was, he could be so serious in interviews as he felt uncomfortable with strangers but put him in a room with friends and he was a riot. I’ve got a shot of Lou and Nico in this show, who were lovers at the time, and the picture speaks volumes to me. There’s a certain melancholy and gentleness, it’s very emotive plus they’re two brilliantly innovative performers of all time. I must say though it was Andy Warhol who brought everyone together, and his work was based around photography. He told me it’s what he preferred one time, the simplicity of it. It was Andy who broke down barriers for us photographers with galleries and museums.
EXPOSED is running until October 19th at Sumo Gallery in Tribeca
Photographs courtesy of Mick Rock