Legendary rock-and-roll photographer Mick Rock brings his Icons exhibition to Dallas.
If you don’t know his name, you are no doubt familiar with his imagery. Cambridge-educated photographer Mick Rock has oft been labeled the “Zelig of the music industry” for his innate ability to be in the right place at the right time, capturing the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, Debbie Harry and Queen in all their high-cheekboned, youthful glory.
But then again, there were plenty of other ’70s and ’80s scenesters with a camera in hand, and they didn’t walk away with some of the most indelible images of the era. To say Rock has an eye would be an underestimation. And “The Man Who Shot the Seventies,” never really stopped working, even during a period of hedonism covered in his 2016 documentary, Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.
As enthusiastic about his yoga and meditation practice as he is about his chosen profession, Rock is as interesting as the subjects he has chosen to capture. In Dallas September 14 for the opening of his show Icons at The Public Trust, he’ll be at The TASCHEN Library at The Joule for an artist’s talk and book signing of The Rise of David Bowie 1972-1973 (published mere months after the superstar succumbed to cancer).
We took a moment to pick the brain of the iconoclastic—and still very much in demand—photographer ahead of the opening.
Let’s begin at the beginning—how did you first pick up a camera?
It’s in the documentary. I don’t even know if I segued into photography. I was studying modern languages and literature on a scholarship, and it was that particular time in the culture when everything was on the move, particularly for young would-be rebels!
My parents had no money, so it wasn’t like I had a camera, but a friend of mine came from a wealthy family turned me onto LSD. I picked up his camera and pointed it (at a young lady) and started clicking. Every time I clicked, it changed everything—the face changed from a skeleton to a baby to an old woman. It was like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It fascinated me, so I borrowed my mate’s camera. If you were studying in an arts college, you had a lot of time on your hands. I took pictures of a lead singer who had Hendrix looks and got five pounds—which was something, the idea that I could get paid for taking pictures.
Ah, and we thought that meeting Syd (Barrett, the original lead singer of Pink Floyd) was the catalyst.
It effectively was, but that wasn’t the beginning of it. I got to know Syd at the Cambridge Arts College Christmas party, and about 18 months later I shot him. Syd is really the one that cracked open the door, not that I got paid much for that but I didn’t really care. We were all young, the world was young, and there was such a thing as the underground. It was a cool time to be in your late teens and early 20s.
My mother used to say, “I know you’re only doing this to avoid getting a real job,” but it just evolved. In those days, I would also do a little interview, and that’s how I met Bowie—not that he was any big deal when I met him! After a while, I had to stop the writing because I didn’t have time. I met Lou Reed and Iggy (Pop). Queen popped up and Roxy Music, and I was shooting all kinds of stuff. I have this huge archive—I was shooting whether I was making money or not.
Did you know your subjects would become icons?
Even David or Lou could never know what they could become. It just started to happen. We thought we were on the cutting edge; we thought The Beatles and The Stones were old. Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy for starters were cutting edge, and I was right in the thick of it. I firmly believed in these people, but I couldn’t have projected 40 years down the road any more than I could project my pictures being in museums and galleries. We were outliers as far as we were concerned, but it kept rolling, and the internet came along. That blasted everything wide open, so there really is no past, present, and future.
You’ve said that shooting someone is like ‘popping their aura.’ Love that phrase.
What I was looking for in a picture is energy, focus, aura. I’m interested in your aura, I’m not interested in exploring people psychologically. I’m a generator and also a receiver. The images will happen—it’s happened every time whether I’m high, low, or comatose; they keep coming!
The truth is I started doing yoga very young, and that has a lot to do with it. People say, “You must have been obsessed with photography,” but I was more obsessed with altered states and how to achieve them. I still do yoga every day, then I do a meditation, then I’m ready for anything—to wrestle tigers.
You recently shot a campaign for Gucci. Is it validating to still be so deep in the nucleus of pop culture?
I don’t know if I think about it too much, I just do what I do. I’m certainly glad to be around; I’ve got a lot of dead friends starting with Syd Barrett and (Mick) Ronson and Lou and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Bowie. The amazing Iggy is fucking extraordinary—he was going to be the one who was going first, but god bless him, he’s going to keep steamrolling on and on.
Why do you feel that so many of your subjects are still impactful to a new generation?It’s nice that they are; it’s nice that they care. My work always starts with Bowie and Freddy Mercury and Lou, and I think, “Oh man, I’ve done more than that,” but I have no complaints. People talk about style, and I say I don’t know if I’ve got a style, I’ve got an attitude. I see myself as an artist first and foremost, and these are the fruits I’ve gathered on my journey, and it keeps on going.
What’s next for Mr. Rock?
Someone’s talking to me about (being a character) in a graphic novel. I’m working on a Mick Rock retrospective book, and there’s two others under discussion. I just finished a big museum show in Beijing, and the Bowie show I did at the Museum of Pop in Seattle is going to Shanghai. I’m going to do a tour in the autumn with a slideshow on the East Coast—there’s a lot of things. I just have to stay light on my feet and stay focused.
The Details: Artist talk and book signing at The TASCHEN Library, Thursday, September 12. 7 PM. Limited copies available; email email@example.com to reserve yours in advance.
Mick Rock: Icons runs from September 14–October 19 at The Public Trust with an opening reception September 14 from 6–9pm. Head to Midnight Rambler afterwards for the official afterparty DJ’d by Mick Rock and Mr. Rid. The artist will also be taking a limited number of commissioned portraits in Dallas on Sunday, September 15. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.