Mick Rock: Photographer who created indelible images of big names in music

ByDavid M. Conte

Dec 3, 2021

Mick Rock, a British photographer who helped shape the visual identity of rock’n’roll in the 1970s, with indelible portraits of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry, has died at the age of 72 years old.

Rock, often referred to as “the man who shot the 70s”, became a photographer almost by accident while a student at Cambridge University in the late 1960s.

“I was at a friend’s house who had all the toys, including a great record player and a camera,” he told the New York Post in March. “Sitting in his bedroom, tripping over an acid blotter, I picked up the camera and started playing with it. “

Everything about it was perfect – the sound of the shutter, the flash of light, the feeling of searching for the essence of the person on the other side of the lens. Rock was barely 20 years old when he painted his portraits of a budding rock star, Syd Barrett, a co-founder friend of Pink Floyd.

“He looked like a cursed poetRock told NPR. Fresh air, using a term that described an antisocial “cursed poet” in 19th century France. “He just had that romantic aura about him.”

In early 1972, Rock met Bowie, then in his androgynous “Ziggy Stardust” period. Bowie had shiny red hair, wore elaborate makeup and outfits, and projected an air of glamor, danger and sexual ambivalence.

One of their first portrait sessions took place, somewhat unlikely, in the bedroom of Bowie’s toddler son. Rock recognized in Bowie an almost perfect subject: he had a beautiful face and a powerful personality that Rock saw as the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

“Remember they’re often called an ‘act’ – and that’s for a reason,” Rock told the Staten Island Advance in 2009. “They have to become the character they created to project their music, their art – something larger than life. Even I go through a change and I become this rather rowdy and very impactful character, “Mick Rock”, when I take pictures. “

Rock was Bowie’s personal photographer for several years, and the two became close friends. Bowie introduced him to other rising figures in the rock world, including Reed and Pop. Rock captured memorable footage of the two, including black and white photos of Reed performing in London.

Ramones drummer Marky Ramone and Mick Rock, right, at a screening of the documentary ‘Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock ‘in 2016


As Rock developed the photos, they became slightly blurry. A photo, showing Reed looking out, while putting on eye makeup and holding his guitar, became the cover of his 1972 album. Transformer. It has become, in many ways, the defining image of Reed.

“For the rest of his career he’s been haunted by this particular shot,” Rock said in 2016. “A lot of people don’t even think of it as a performance shot because it’s a shot. very quiet. “

Around the same time, Rock photographed a lean, shirtless Pop man holding the microphone in both hands and gazing thoughtfully at the audience. This image became the cover of Pop’s 1973 album. Brute force.

In 1974, Rock made a group portrait of the rock band Queen, showing their faces in stark shadows as frontman Freddie Mercury folded his hands across his chest. The photo, which appeared on the album cover Queen ii, was modeled on a movie still that Rock had seen of Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 film Shanghai Express.

Rock went on to photograph dozens of rock musicians, including Blondie’s Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joan Jett and Debbie Harry, whom he called “the most naturally photogenic person I have ever photographed.” In 1975, he shot photographs on the set of the classic cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rock moved to New York City in 1977 and for years was a part of the rock’n’roll world, indulging in the sex and drugs that came with it.

Mick Rock and Kelly Osbourne, December 2006


“I was not a foreigner,” he told NPR. “It was also my life. I mean, I didn’t play an instrument, but I lived life.

He quit drugs and cigarettes in 1996 after undergoing quadruple coronary bypass surgery. Soon after, his photographs began to be recognized as fine art and were shown in exhibitions, most notably at the Govinda Gallery in Washington. He has published a series of books.

“My camera was the key to being a part of the glamor and punk stuff,” Rock told the Daily mail in 2017. “I never thought about what I was doing. I still shoot today because it’s the song I love the most. It’s like a hit song – I always want to produce an image that people will come back to over and over again.

Rock was born on November 22, 1948 in London. Little is known about his youth and even his name is questionable. He usually said his first name was Michael David Rock. But in a 2017 online interview, he said his name was Michael Edward Chester Smith for the first two years of his life and was born after his mother had an affair with an American aviator.

In 1970, after completing his studies in Modern Languages ​​and Literature in Cambridge, Rock moved to London. He had an early marriage which ended in divorce. In addition to photographing musicians, he also wrote sleeve notes and contributed to Rolling stone and other musical publications.

In 2015 and 2016, Rock had a cable TV series, On record with Mick Rock, in which he interviewed musicians. A documentary about his life, To pull! The psycho-spiritual mantra of rock, directed by Barney Clay, was released in 2017.

Rock lived for many years on Staten Island with his wife, Pati Rock, and their surviving daughter, Nathalie.

Rock has remained an active photographer and was not slowed down by a kidney transplant in 2012. His subjects in recent years have included Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, the Foo Fighters, and Pharrell Williams. Last year, he made the cover for Miley Cyrus’ new album, Plastic hearts.

“I’m evoking the aura of people and photographing,” Rock told the BBC in 2007. “I’m not necessarily looking for literal reality; I’m looking for something that has a little bit of magic, and where it’s coming from or when this time is, you can’t prescribe.

Mick Rock, photographer, born November 22, 1948, died November 18, 2021

© The Washington Post

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