Known as ‘the man who shot the 70s’, Rock was renowned for his iconic images of David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Debbie Harry
Mick Rock, the legendary music photographer known as “the man who shot the 70s”, has died, aged 72.
The prolific artist – who was David Bowie’s official photographer – lensed everyone from Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Talking Heads, to Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, and The Chemical Brothers.
The news of Rock’s death was confirmed via a statement shared on his social media accounts. “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side,” it read. “Those who had the pleasure of existing in his orbit know that Mick was always so much more than ‘The Man Who Shot The 70s’. He was a photographic poet – a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.”
“A man fascinated with image, he absorbed visual beings through his lens and immersed himself in their art, thus creating some of the most magnificent images rock music has ever seen,” the statement continued. “To know Mick was to love him. He was a mythical creature; the likes of which we shall never experience again.”
Rock lived in New York City’s Staten Island with his wife and daughter. No cause of death has been announced as of yet.
Tributes have poured in for the photographer. Johnny Marr shared a photo of himself being shot by Rock, with the caption: “Goodbye for now my friend and comrade Mick Rock. The visionary poet.”
Bowie collaborator Mike Garson said: “So sad to hear of Mick Rock’s passing. He was one of a kind, with such an eye for aesthetics and seizing the right moments. He was also quite fun to travel with back in the days of Spiders. Mick gave so much to this planet and he adored David. Mick’s journey shall continue.”
Sharon Osbourne, whose husband Ozzy was shot by Rock, tweeted: “We lost a legend, a true artist, Mick Rock. His work will live on forever. All our love and respect to his family.”
Born in London in 1948, Rock first picked up a camera during an acid trip when he was a student at the University of Cambridge (where he studied medieval and modern languages). “If it hadn’t been for LSD and that particular trip – and a particular young lady – I wouldn’t ever have started dabbling with taking photos,” he told Dazed in 2017. “When I found out afterwards that there had been no film in the camera… well, that really got me thinking. I thought I may as well have another go.”
It was through shooting the local music scene that Rock met Cambridge native Barrett and Mick Jagger’s younger brother Chris. In 1972, the photographer met then-cult musician Bowie at a Birmingham show during his Ziggy Stardust tour. As reported by The Guardian, Rock credits his 1972 shot of Bowie simulating oral sex on Mick Ronson’s guitar as launching both of their careers. From there, Bowie introduced him to Reed and Pop, which then led to friendships with Harry, Andy Warhol, and more.
Rock has lensed some of music’s most iconic album covers, including Bowie’s Pin Ups, Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, Reed’s Transformer and Coney Island Baby, Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ Raw Power, Queen’s Queen II, the Ramones’ End of the Century, and Miley Cyrus’ Plastic Hearts. He also produced and directed the videos for Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing”, “Jean Genie”, “Space Oddity”, and “Life on Mars”.
“I just went for the people who interested me,” Rock previously told Dazed. “There were no guarantees these guys were gonna be big, none at all. I certainly did what I liked, and it didn’t matter how popular it was. Popular wasn’t what I was looking for.”
Rock underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1997 (paid for by the Rolling Stones’ manager) after, as BBC News put it in 2007, “indulging in a life of debauchery” – namely, substance abuse. “That was God’s way of giving me a good smack for being such a naughty boy for too many years,” he told the broadcaster. Rock said he rehabilitated himself with yoga and meditation.
Between 1995 and 2010, the photographer published 14 photo books (320 copies of his 2007, Psychedelic Renegades, which documents Rock’s photos of Barrett, were signed by the enigmatic musician himself). His work has also been featured in two solo exhibitions, a retrospective in Tokyo in 2003, and one in Manchester in 2005. A biographical documentary about Rock’s life, titled SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, premiered in 2016.
Look back at Dazed’s 2017 interview with Rock here, where he talks us through how to capture the aura of a person on camera.