mick rock, table of pics

The inside story behind legendary photographer Mick Rock’s new epic documentary featuring David Bowie

Words: Josh Rakic
Photos: Mick Rock/Magnolia

The wildman responsible for David Bowie’s most iconic images unveils unseen footage of music’s biggest icons in his eagerly awaited documentary

His name might not ring a bell immediately but Mick Rock – yes, his real name – is as synonymous with 1970’s pop culture icons David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, namely because he’s the photographer who captured their most iconic images.

In fact, the Cambridge University graduate wasn’t just a photographer and artist, but more like a close friend and confidant of the biggest names of the era, including the likes of Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Debbie Harry and basically every icon in one of the most definitive decades in modern music and fashion history.

Somehow Rock’s survived to tell stories despite partying his way through two decades of binge drinking and drugs, which ultimately led to him undergoing a quadruple heart bypass and kidney transplant. Better yet, he kept an archive of his entire catalogue of images, video – he shot the famous Life On Mars film clip – and interviews.

The best of the archive and Rock himself features as the subjects of director Barney Clay’s new documentary, Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra Of Rock. It features the untold stories behind some of the most definitive pictures of music royalty, and the culture and all-out debauchery of the glam and punk eras.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Rock ahead of the film’s release. 

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THE RED BULLETIN: Mick! You’re as busy as ever.

MICK ROCK: There’s so much going on in my life at the moment. I’m just back from Tokyo, where I did this thing with TCM, their Rock And Roll Through The Lens auction. I’m in LA for the film’s premiere. Next week I’m going to Seattle to begin work on my Museum of Pop Exhibition. Then Buenos Aires and London.

You’ve a little surprise planned for the exhibition that features David Bowie, right?

Late June I’m going to the Museum of Pop and we’re going to do some video. There’s a new virtual reality project with Bowie I’m working on. We’ll set up the goggles and the headphones and all that, and show footage that hasn’t been seen before. It’s one of those totally immersed projects. Then there’s another virtual reality project and there could be a third one. It’ll be up for about four months in Seattle and then it’s going on tour.

Your photos and footage of Bowie are known the world over, and your Bowie Taschen book has become a collector’s item.

That Bowie book has outsold The Rolling Stones book. Of course, the Bowie book is now worth a lot more than the Stones one because David went and died. But the Stones is still a cool book. You want a great investment? Buy my books. [Laughs.]

david, bowies, mirror
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Founding Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett was another book subject and features in the documentary. 
Yes. What’s possibly worth more than David’s book is my Syd Barrett book I did with Genesis. He co-signed 320 of them. I remember it was around the time I was doing my first book with David, Moonage Daydream. David kept bothering me for his copy of the Syd Barrett book. I remember that. I was like, “Get him a copy. He’s up my ass about it.”

Among many other things, Shot! re-tells your meeting of Bowie in the early 1970s.
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 And The Spiders From Mars. But it took time. When we first met, he was very fascinated to talk about Syd Barrett, who was a friend of mine. That was about all he knew of me, because there wasn’t much more to know probably. I knew he had met Lou [Reed] and Iggy [Pop] in New York. He didn’t know them as well as I knew Syd, but when they came over that summer, we spent some time. They weren’t particularly well known except by, as David might say, know-it-alls –people like David and me. They were huge to us.

You and David were effectively inseparable for two years.
I regarded his talent as being massive and mine as being modest. Let’s not confuse the two. David looked so spectacular. I mean, let’s be honest, it was impossible to take a bad photo of David. I think in a way he kind of hypnotised me, and remember: in that 20-month period I shot him in 74 different outfits. Now, I haven’t represented all of them in any book. But I did shoot him in that many. That could be the next book. We’ll have to have another one.

debbie harry
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The documentary is badass. It lives up to its ‘psycho-spiritual’ tag.
Barney came up with the name, but I came up with the exclamation mark! My idea was to call it Mad Dogs And Englishmen or something. Not very good. 

There’s a tonne of unseen archive footage, including audio of conversations with Bowie and Lou.
I am a bit of a hoarder. Even in my mad days, I was keeping things. Barney loved the hoarding. You can see it in the 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.

Your pictures and their subjects are immortal. But there’s a real theme of mortality in the documentary, with flashbacks to your heart surgery in 1996.
I had a kidney transplant recently, too. Thank God that wasn’t in the documentary! Barney already had enough of that mortality stuff. He originally had more but it was too much because I’m not dead! You hear that, Barney? I’m not dead!

Shot! Will be released on Friday, April 7.

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