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Story of my life and near death was crying out to be exposed; Photographer Mick Rock on how celebrities, passion and drugs are perfect ingredients for thrilling documentary.


Given his name, you could argue that Mick Rock was born to document the music industry.

His first photo session was with his friend, former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett.

Within a couple of years, he was shooting iconic portraits of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop amongst many, many others at the advent of glam rock and later punk.

You have seen his pictures, even if you don't realise it, which is why he has earned the title of 'the man who shot the Seventies'. He begs to differ on his moniker, although Mick admits that destiny was calling, even if he didn't know it.

He said: "I don't know if I ever said, 'I want to be a photographer'. I used to think maybe I'd be a writer, a lyricist, a moviemaker. I played around with different things but it kept leading to one thing.

"I don't know if my life could have turned out any differently, the good, the bad and the brutal.

"I remember when I was having a rough time when my reputation as a reprobate had gotten ahead of my reputation as a photographer but even then I could never see how it could have been any different.

"I am forced to look back more than ever today because other people want to look back, to the 70s especially. But I have to keep reminding people that I didn't put my cameras out on January 1, 1980. 'The man who shot the Seventies' stuff is a bit of misnomer. But whatever, it's a good tagline."

His other famous works bear that out. While he has also photographed Queen, The Ramones, Blondie and even the Rocky Horror Picture Show, his works span the decades and includes everyone from Motley Crue, Sex Pistols and Snoop Dogg to Kate Moss, Jimmy Fallon, Ellie Goulding, Michael Buble and Daft Punk.

Mick, who was born in London in 1948 but has lived in New York for 35 years, is now very much in focus in a new documentary, Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, a frank and sometimes psychedelic account of one of the world's greatest, and most rock 'n' roll, photographers. He's happy with the film, which is directed by Barnaby Clay, although less enamoured by his starring role.

He laughed: "It's a nightmare.

No, it's not really but it's a tricky thing because it's me. I am used to talking about other people but, on the other hand, I've been shot a lot.

"It's the modern world, people are interested in photographers. Nobody used to care but it's a different world and, of course, the great media monster is constantly looking for more food so I am part of the food chain. If people like what's going on in the film, that's cool. If they don't, that's cool too."

The film is presented in his own words, taking the audience through his journey from glam rock to the scuzz of punk and beyond, looking at his era-defining work, including the covers to Lou Reed's Transformer and Iggy Pop's Raw Power.

It also looks at what his journey did to him, because while Mick was working hard, he also partied hard. LSD led to him picking up a camera in the first place, but his taste for cocaine almost killed him in 1996 and left him in need of a quadruple heart bypass. The film is built around his brush with death.

He said: "It adds a bit of drama to things and people love that, a bit of drugs and death. And we throw in a bit of resurrection as well. It changed me, stopped everything and cleaned me up. The thing is you can still be productive and be a wreck. You con yourself, tell yourself, 'I can still deliver, there's nothing wrong with me'.

"Other people might say, 'I think there is something wrong with you mate'. But I wasn't listening. I was going to do what I was going to do. Mad Dogs and Englishmen. I had that approach to life. But I was more of a mad dog than an Englishman."

One of the quotes which comes out of Shot! is his mantra for taking a picture: "I'm not after your soul, I'm after your f***ing aura."

It's something he has brought out of many, including Blondie's Debbie Harry and Queen, but they don't come much bigger or better than David Bowie, whom he first photographed in 1972.

During Bowie's Ziggy Stardust years, Mick was his personal photographer. He took the famous image of Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson eating a fry up on their way to Aberdeen for the first show of the final Ziggy Stardust tour on May 15, 1973.

He also directed Bowie's first music videos for John, I'm Only Dancing, Space Oddity, The Jean Genie and Life on Mars. They maintained a friendship over 40 years, as he did with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Mick could sense there was something about them as soon as they met.

He said: "I could smell it. They reeked of something special. But I shot a lot of people who didn't have particularly interesting careers because a boy had to live.

"The relationships were important. From the beginning obviously Syd Barrett, he had a certain magic about him and was a friend before I photographed him.

"The others I got to know through various means but it was really results of the photography which drew us closer. My camera was the key to being part of the glammy and punky stuff.

"It's very hard to explain how it all went down because I wasn't looking to become a photographer, that came from taking LSD and playing around with the camera.

"Very soon, I produced images people were praising, and they opened up doors for me. Obviously David was very important to me and meeting Iggy and Lou was too. They were important in my life in the bigger sense. They helped shape my sensibility."

Timing played a part too, with glam rock and the excesses of the 70s pushing the boundaries set by the original King of rock 'n' roll, Elvis. The importance placed upon Mick's work as the years have gone past still surprises and delights him but nothing beats taking pictures.

He said: "Rock 'n' roll was still very young. Elvis only put out his first record in 1956. This is 1972, only 16 years after he has got his thing rolling whereas now we are 45 years beyond that so the world is a different place, music is in a different place, people's perceptions are different.

"The fascinating part is what a big deal photography became. What I was doing at the time was important to me but not in general. I had no idea the years would bend them into this different realm of perception where people started taking them so seriously. I thought I was just taking a f***ing picture.

"I never reflected on what I was doing. I still shoot today because that is the bit I love most. It's like a hit song - I still want to produce a picture that people will come back to again and again."

n Shot! The Psycho Spiritual Mantra Of Rock is released July 21.

People love a bit of drugs and death. It adds a bit of drama to things


DONS OF A NEW ERA... Mick next to his picture of Bowie and Mick Ronson en route to Aberdeen

IN THE FLESH... At book launch of Picture This: Debbie Harry and Blondie by Mick Rock at New York's Hiro Ballroom in 2004 and, right, Joan Jett cover and Lou Reed, below

VISION... Story brings Mick's life and career into focus
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 9, 2017

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