Mick Rock, ‘The Man Who Shot the 70s’

We sit down with Mick Rock, the man who shot Bowie and some of music’s most iconic images.

Conjure up an image of David Bowie and we can guarantee that the man responsible is Mick Rock—the Cambridge-educated Englishman who befriended the biggest icons of 1970s pop to become one himself, behind the lens.

Affectionately known as the man who shot the 70s—though he’ll just as quickly call you a cunt if you dare date him, given he continues to work with the biggest names in the game—Mick Rock lives up to his name. Yeah, his real name.

Calling the likes of Bowie, Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, Freddie Mercury, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Mick Jagger amongst his closest friends, it’s quite possible the quick-witted lad did more coke than all of them combined—as evidenced by a quadruple bypass courtesy of a cluster of heart attacks in 1996.

In his new documentary Shot! The Psycho Spiritual Mantra of Rock by Vice collaborator Barney Clay, Rock not only features as the narrator but willingly opens up on his relationships with glam and punk’s biggest names and how he traded many of his earliest (and very possibly most valuable) pics for buckets of coke throughout the 1970s.

But despite seven-day sleepless coke benders, Rock somehow managed archive the vast majority of his work. And jammed throughout the unique, psychedelic doco is never-before-seen footage and better yet, never-before-heard conversations between Rock and a candid Bowie and Reed, some of which literally records them doing lines.

To look at him, Rock’s effectively Keith Richards with a camera and better skin. And after sitting down with the sardonic shit stirrer and lensman, you get the drift he’s just as much fun. We caught up with him on his press tour last week, with Shot! hitting iTunes and VOD this week.

Mick Rock: “Hold on, you’re Australian, you motherfucker. How did he get in here!?” [laughs].

Mick! The documentary is a side of the 1970s pop story we haven’t seen before. Largely on account of your impressive archive of images and footage How!?

I am a bit of a hoarder. Barney loved the hoarding. You can see it in the fucking documentary. I can’t tell you how I kept them. If you want me to explain how I was in a state to do that, I can’t. How it all happened or why it all happened. But even in my mad days I was keeping things. Not everything, unfortunately.

You lost the last ever images of The Who drummer Keith Moon…

Not that it was a pretty sight, but I did shoot the very last pictures of Keith Moon. But I let the record company borrow them and I was so fucked up I forgot to get them back. It was MCA Records. I don’t think they even exist now. They’d have quite the job finding them. Keith didn’t look great. He aged prematurely. I was still young enough that I could show an ankle or two, but he didn’t look good.

There’s literally audio of you and Lou Reed doing lines, and then footage of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart being busted by police. Glam seemed the very definition of hedonism….

The truth of it is, though it may have looked from the outside as self-destructive, I at least was never consciously self-destructive. I was highly experimental. Especially when it came to yoga, meditation, drugs and girls. Now, of course, I’m an old man in a matter of speaking—relatively. And the drugs and the girls bit have fallen by the wayside. But I still do yoga every day.

How did you come to be so “experimental”?

I think something about my surname fucked me up. My name and LSD!  [laughs]. I think that’s what did it. And then what goes on in Cambridge (where he studied literature)… There were all those free thinkers there for centuries, their portraits lurking about in the buildings. That rubs off. And I’m glad we went there for the doco and did some shooting—which wasn’t long after my kidney transplant. Thank god that wasn’t in the documentary. Barney already had enough of that mortality stuff. I’m not fucking dead, all right.

Tell us about the audio recordings in the doco?

I sound amazingly naive in them, I know that. Especially with Lou. I never thought about it at the time. You are who you are, especially when you’re young. You do what you do. I just rolled it along and they were obviously willing to do it and it went wherever it went. I wish I had the rest of the tapes because I did more of them. I may still have them. I wish I had my Syd Barrett (founding member of Pink Floyd) tape. I actually did the last ever interview with Syd. Of course, he was a friend of mine. But those three pop up in the doc somewhere.

You used to interview the guys for magazines for extra cash in the early days, yeah?

I was doing it for publication, because that was another way for me to make a living. My photography was the main thing and the first thing that ever made me money. I mean, there had to be some reason for my classical English education; so I can scribble a bit [laughs]. It saved a magazine money with the package deal and I made a little more. So it was crassly commercial-driven [laughs]. I think that’s part of the reason I got to know David, Lou and those guys even better than most photographers because we exchanged ideas. We exchanged thoughts and philosophies. They knew more about me. They were not suspicious of me.

You spent 20 months straight with Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust period and were effectively his documentarian for the most symbolic phase of glam…

When I first met David it wasn’t like everyone was trying to photograph him. I mean, it started to happen after the release of Ziggy Stardust. It took time. I think once he went to America there wasn’t much fuss about it. But when he came back, there was suddenly a big fuss about him. And I think in a way he kind of hypnotised me. David looked so spectacular. I mean, let’s be honest, it was impossible to take a bad photo of David. His manager told me, ‘you were the first photographer to see him the way he sees himself.’ It was good timing.

You’ve already released a number of sell-out Bowie books. Now you’ve got a virtual reality exhibition in the works with rare footage of yours from Life on Mars?

I’m working on the Museum of Pop in Seattle, where we’re going to do some video. We’ll set up the goggles and the headphones, and show footage that hasn’t been seen before. It’s one of those totally immersed projects. It’ll be up for about four months in Seattle and then it’s going on tour.

Shot! is now available on iTunes and other VOD services.

Sign up for the Monster Children Newsletter