LONDON – Hailed as the man who shot the seventies, Mick Rock has taken photographs of everyone from Iggy Pop and Lou Reed to The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and Queen. He is particularly renowned for the shots he took of David Bowie, as this groundbreaking artist established himself as a superstar.
Rock has just published a survey of these works in a sumptuous new book from Taschen ($700) and signed by both him and Bowie. As two of his images appear in the Rock Style show at Sotheby’s S2 gallery this month, Mick Rock recalls what happened behind the scenes as these seminal shots were taken:
DAVID BOWIE AND MICK RONSON, LUNCH ON TRAIN TO ABERDEEN, UK, 1973. PHOTO: MICK ROCK.
“Bowie wouldn’t fly anywhere in those days – when he went to America, he went on a liner; when he went to Japan, he went overland. We were going to Aberdeen, so they rented a railway carriage. I was going with them and took a few pictures on the train. They were having their lunch and I was hanging out with them and grabbed a couple of shots. There weren’t any other photographers around at the time, and though David had been photographed professionally, it wasn’t like everywhere he went there was a shutterbug. What I think adds a little flavour to that particular shot is the glance going on, the conspiratorial glance between him and Mick [Ronson], like they’ve got the testicles of rock ‘n’ roll in the palm of their hands and they’re enjoying squeezing them. They know that the thing that started out so modestly has opened up all the cavities in rock and roll and thrown it into disarray. I didn’t even think too much about it then – if I had I’d have taken more pictures. It wasn’t until 2000 that I published a book that included these shots. Did I know what I was doing? Well I thought I did but looking back you didn’t really know anything. My antennae must have been finely tuned, and I got involved not just with the rock ‘n’ rollers but with all that glam stuff that was going on in London. I mean I was having fun, I felt these guys were very significant, it turned out I was right, but how could I have predicted?”
DAVID BOWIE "LIFE ON MARS," LONDON, 1973. PHOTO: MICK ROCK.
“That was when I was shooting the Life on Mars video, we used to do these things in a day then, and I produced and directed these videos. It was simply David against this white backdrop and I would also take stills on set and that was one that I shot at the time. It’s the way David looks, the outfit. I’m not sure where the suit came from, but it might have been put together by Freddy Burassi who did a lot of the early costumes for David including the multi-coloured one he wore on Top of the Pops [BBC music show at the time] when they did Starman. The make-up was done by Pierre LaRoche, who also did the make-up on the Brian Duffy shot that has become the main promo image for the Victoria and Albert museum touring show. It’s that much more exotic look, and he has no eyebrows because he shaved them off on the American tour in late ’72 which only added to this Martian vibe he had going on. The amazing thing about Ziggy, I find, looking back 40 years later, is that if Bowie popped up now he would absolutely not look out of place. He always had an instinct for the future, and his sound, of course, you hear little strains of other things, but it was a new synergy. Bowie was remarkably prescient. I think that was another thing about him that stimulated me, was that when you talked to him, you realised how bright he was, and he gave great interviews. I’m sure modern journalists ache for the days when Dave would actually give interviews because he always had something interesting to say.”