Shooting for Stardust: Mick Rock on Photographing Bowie
British photographer Mick Rock has impeccable instincts, not to mention a perfect sense of timing. In the early Seventies, while working at the offices of Oz magazine in London, Rock came across a promo copy of a record titled Hunky Dory by a still-relative newcomer named David Bowie. That encounter led Rock, who was hooked on that album, to meet Bowie backstage at the latter’s gig in Birmingham, England, where he took his first photos of the singer. It marked the beginning of a momentous working relationship in which Rock became Bowie’s official photographer from 1972 to 1973 — a period during which Bowie took the pop music world by storm through his androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. “Mick sees me the way I see myself,” the singer told his manager, according to Rock, upon viewing the results of a photo session at Bowie’s residence.
Appropriately described as “the man who shot the Seventies,” Rock went on to photograph numerous stars — from Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Queen, Iggy Pop, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, to most recently the Black Keys, Janelle Monae, and Ellie Goulding. But undoubtedly Rock will be forever linked to his shots of Bowie at the height of the Ziggy Stardust phenomenon. Now that remarkable period is being celebrated in a new numbered limited-edition photo book, The Rise of David Bowie: 1972-1973, published by Taschen and due for release later this month. Co-signed by Bowie and Rock with text by Barney Hoskyns and Michael Bracewell, the large and lavish 310-page tome contains Rock’s popular images of the legend along with many previously unseen ones; shots of Bowie in posed and candid moments as well as him performing live in his full-out Ziggy splendor.
Coinciding with the release of Rock’s book is an upcoming exhibit of his works, Shooting for Stardust: David Bowie and Co., which opens September 10th at the Taschen Gallery in Los Angeles. Recently the photographer, who is the subject of an upcoming documentary, spoke with Rolling Stone at the Taschen offices in New York about working with Bowie during those two amazing years.
How did this book project originate? You and David had previously collaborated on a photo book from the early 2000s covering similar ground.
It was Taschen’s idea. The editor approached me probably three years ago before my kidney transplant. And I said, “David and I already did a beautiful book [Moonage Daydream],” which we already co-signed with Genesis Publications. They said, “Well, we’re aware of that, but 1) it’s out of print, 2) we want to do our own version, and 3) we know you have a lot of previously unseen photographs.” So they twisted my arm. And then I said, “I’m not gonna do this unless David gets on board and gives me his blessing.”