Mick Rock smiles as he flips through his photographs. Pointing to one of Kate Moss, he says “Wow.”
The model wore only black stockings and a belt that once belonged to Lou Reed for Rock’s portrait. The next one shows Lady Gaga, in a low-cut dress, letting Bono pose with her at a New York party.
“I love this one,” Rock says in a London interview, studying his portrait of David Bowie, stripped to the waist and praying like a monk in a bare room in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Rock, dressed in black, is flopped in a chair, drinking strong coffee to fight jetlag after only five hours’ sleep. He apologizes for being late after photographing Bryan Ferry: “I haven’t shot him in over 30 years and he still looks good.”
Rock has spent four decades capturing some of the most memorable images in pop. They include the black-eyed Reed on the cover of “Transformer,” a crazed Iggy Pop on “Raw Power” -- shot within a day of each other at London’s Kings Cross Cinema in 1972 -- and the top-lit portrait on “Queen II” (repeated for the band’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” video.)
He’s running through pictures on his iPhone -- some never published (Bowie in his underpants), some from exhibitions of his work recently held in New York and currently in London (Ronnie Spector flashing her knickers onstage) and some in his book “Exposed” (Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger confronted by police officers after a loud party).
“I’ve shot a lot of stuff,” Rock says before the London gallery private view, pointing to photos of Bob Marley and Madonna. “People know me primarily for certain images, like they know the Rolling Stones for ‘Satisfaction’ -- they must say, ‘We did a couple of songs after that.’”
Rock has been called “the laureate of glam rock” and “the man who shot the seventies.”
“Like I stopped taking pictures about 1980, but it wasn’t true,” he says. Rock flicks through his book: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs grins, Dave Grohl pokes his tongue out, the Killers go wild, Daniel Merriweather looks serious, Debbie Harry of Blondie smolders, Snoop Dogg smirks.
New York-based Rock, born in 1948, got into photography by accident as a Cambridge University arts student. Rock smiles as he recalls being “a bit psychedelically inebriated” at a party where he tried to use a camera, only to discover that there was no film in it. Within months, he was taking photos of bands, met Pink Floyd’s founder Syd Barrett, and was blown away by the group’s concerts.
Syd the Painter
“It was an unusual show by the standards of the time,” says Rock. “There, in the middle of it all, lurked young Syd. He looked like a rock star but he was still primarily a painter.” Rock took the last photos of Barrett in 1971 before the star became a recluse. “My pictures were his favorites.”
Rock moved to the U.S. and has taken cover shots for albums by the Ramones, Joan Jett and Carly Simon. He likes pictures that put the subject in a new light. Rock’s shots of Reed include the moody New Yorker buying, cuddling and walking a cute dachshund: “Big bad Lou with his little puppy dog.”
Another shot shows Andy Warhol getting pied: “ A guy splodged him with a pie at a party,” Rock says. “I had the cameras in the other room and Andy said, ‘Don’t worry, Mick.’ He recreated it for me and plonked the pie back on his head.”
Rock is especially fond of a studio shoot with Bowie in 2002, used on the book cover, where the singer mimics Irving Penn’s portrait of Pablo Picasso, with just one eye glinting.
Asked to offer advice for budding photographers, Rock jests: “Don’t!” He pauses, then says “the key thing is to follow your obsession.” Apart from his music images he has many of cats, trees and old churches.
He advises taking lots of images, which is easier than ever with digital. “I probably shot about 400 pictures of Bryan today,” he says. “They could be good or could be bad; in my case, it’s more fun.”
“Exposed: The Faces of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Mick Rock is from Chronicle Books in the U.S. and the U.K. (256 pages, $40, 24.95 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.
“Mick Rock: Rock Music” presented by Raj Prem Fine Art Photography in association with Zippo is at Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, London E2 7JB, until Jan. 16, 2011.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)