Mick Rock was the first to turn his lens to an on-the-rise David Bowie. To mark his new book, the legendary photographer tells us the stories behind his best shots
Mick Rock can’t get rid of Ziggy Stardust. “It turned out to be a magical manifestation because it will not go away!” he laughs. That's lucky for us – without David Bowie’s first incarnation on Planet Earth, we might never have known the strange, glamorous and sexually fluid potentials of fashion that, spearheaded by a single persona, would go on to influence codes of self-expression way beyond the 70s.
Rock’s photographs of Bowie, taken between 1972-73 through the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust, have been brought together in a new exhibition and tome by Taschen. Shot during wild, sweat-drenched gigs and quiet moments offstage, Rock’s photographs are an intimate look into the effervescent star quality of someone who, behind all that otherworldly make-up and incredible regalia, probably didn’t even realise himself that the cult of Bowie was only just getting started. We spoke with Rock about his favourite shots, the joy of heels for men and why rock ‘n’ roll in screaming technicolour is better than leather jackets and jeans any day of the week.
AT HOME, MARCH 1972
“I would often not really impose anything. I would go and shoot and deal with the situation that was presented to me. When I showed up at Haddon Hall, that was how David was dressed. I didn't have any kind of flash on me and if I did, it obviously wasn't used. It was the daylight through the window, which really in the end is often the prettiest. That was also the session where he told his manager, when he saw the pictures, that I saw him the way he saw himself. There are bananas in the foreground. When you look through the book you see backstage bananas quite often. David liked a banana or two before he went on stage.”
POST-SHOW, MAY 1973
“This was definitely after a gig and when he was coming down, as it were, from the excitement of the gig. He was very good about turning it on and if I suggested something he would normally do it. Of course, he has got his glam boots on in that shot. It was a guy in South London who made those boots and he specialised in the high heels. I don't think they were Terry de Havilland, although Terry did make some boots for David. But still they are a pretty flashy pair of boots that's for sure. In that 20 month period, I shot in 74 different outfits. He would change often in a middle of show – walk off stage and do a quick change, he might do that three or four times in a show! He was a quick change artist who could wear just about anything – and did wear just about anything.”
ON A BOAT, JANUARY 1973
“On this day, he had his hair slicked back like that. I think people like this picture because it is a different hairdo on him. And of course he smokes a lot. David often had a cigarette in his hand, that's for sure. We’re on a boat because he wouldn’t fly in those days. When David went to Japan, which must have been early 73, he went over land all the way! And when he came back he was overloaded with all these over the top, exotic clothes, which ran through his repetoire. One designer in particular – Kansai Yamamoto. No one else at the time would go near them because they were so strange and wild and sexually ambiguous.”
Mick Rock: Shooting for Stardust, The Rise of David Bowie and Co. is on at TASCHEN Gallery, L.A until October 11. The book is out later this month.