One of the most notable photographers in rock history, Mick Rock is sometimes called “The Man Who Shot the Seventies.” His first major shoot was for the album covers to Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs and Barrett (“There was no photo credit, and I was very naïve,” he says. “Just a baby in the business.”) In the early 70s, he met David Bowie, and in his capacity as Bowie’s official photographer, he shot most of the iconic images of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. He later went on to shoot several iconic album covers, including Lou Reed’s Transformer, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll and Queen II. Presently, he’s got a traveling exhibit of his photos, called Rocked, traveling to five W Hotels in the United States, where he’s also been shooting artists like Janelle Monae and Elle Goulding for the hotel’s Symmetry concert series. We caught up with him last week at the W Washington DC right after he shot Fitz and the Tantrums.
Weeping Elvis: I’ll start with the question I’m sure you get all the time: What’s your favorite image?
Mick Rock: It depends on the day of the week or the week of the year. Obviously there are certain ones that hang about, like Bowie, Iggy, Lou Reed.
What are you generally looking for when you sit down with a new subject? Are you looking for a certain moment or do you just know it when it happens?
Sometimes there’s a concept of the kind of background; the basic attitude. I think the most important thing is I go into the session open to the possibilities. So I get a sense that I channel rather than imposing something. It’s more about sucking on [the subject’s] aura.
And when you go through the reel afterward, do you have an “aha” moment, when you say, “There’s the one”?
Well, I sometimes get a few of them. What distills it down to the final image is always a slightly different process. It’s like making a meal. You keep stirring it and tasting it, then something happens.
What artists were particularly easy to shoot or difficult to shoot?
Nobody’s that difficult. I’ll get the image whatever the fuck happens. Deadmau5 was a little testy. Not with me. But I think he was tired. He’d been working hard, and didn’t want to be there. But he warmed up when we found out we had a mutual friend, Tommy Lee from Motley Crue.
OK, actually I was thinking of Lou Reed specifically when I asked that.
Lou has never been like that with me. Now I’m aware that he has a certain public persona, but …. he’s like a wild thing with reporters. But that’s very much his reporters face. He’s always done that as long as I’ve known him. That’s an intellectual thing. He just gets offended by so many questions. But Lou can be a very warm, generous person if he likes you. …. I’m actually in the middle of working on a new book of my photos of Lou. Already done one with Bowie and Queen.
See a slideshow of Rock’s work…
What was it like back then versus now? Seems like back then, and I’m thinking of rock journalists as well as photographers, you were almost embedded with the bands, going around on tour, where now it’s more of an in and out thing.
Yes, it’s a bit different relationship. We were all a little more naïve. There were many, many less outlets. There wasn’t even cable television when I started out. Most of that stuff just went into rock magazines. … There was a lot of intimacy. [I took] a lot of photographs that I could never publish—and you probably couldn’t take today. And people were aware [that I was there with a camera].
But there probably weren’t publicists around.
There were always publicists, but there weren’t many stylists.
Where did you prefer working back then, London or New York?
Well, I always spent more time in London, but I always had my eye on New York. New York was more dangerous. The girls were just a little bit wilder. Especially [when you had] an English accent. That was my calling card in New York. That may still work, but especially in those days, if you were an English boy, you would be very popular.
Tell us about one of your more dangerous moments.
Most of them I can’t talk about, but getting back to Lou Reed, I remember one night, this was probably the winter of ’76. I remember him saying, “Let’s have a chat.” And it was snowing. And we walked 80 blocks in the snow. … so you can make what you will of that, but no one walks 80 blocks in the snow unless they’ve been drinking a lot of coffee.
Rocked will be on display at the W Washington DC until March 31
before moving onto Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.