22nd March 2013

Grandlife interviews Mick Rock

Article by Hannah Elliott, Grandlife, March 2013

We all know Mick Rock shot punk.

Bowie, Blondie, Barrett - they were his buddies. Lou Reed was his mentor. Madonna, Mercury and Motley Crue his muse. And Mick was as gloriously hedonistic as any of them in embracing the idols of nihilism - sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, baby - that killed off half their lot.

But he's also a major photographer, one of the lone survivors from that era who has proved superhuman in physical and mental fortitude since then.

Recent shows in New York and London were flanked by Phantogram performances and Mark Ronson DJ sets; he's currently filming a documentary and set to partner with Iggy Pop on a run of some as-yet unreleased prints.


Mick Rock: When I first came here to New York, it was even before that first Bowie tour. It must have been '70, '71. And then in '72 I came again, and it was around the Ziggy Stardust tour.

What I remember was in those days, you know, is I was scrambling. We first came in on the bus from the airport. I remember coming in and I could see the skyscrapers looming up out of the mist. It looked like metropolis. I always remembered that image... All Englishmen are entranced by New York.

Grandlife: But you hadn't moved here yet?

MR: That was visiting. And then I would come back in '72, '74 in the summer. I took good pictures, especially of Lou [Reed]. I remember Lou taking me to all kinds of bizarre clubs and meeting all kinds of interesting characters. I was very wide-eyed about the whole thing.

I mean London is a prettier city and London has its charms, but it wasn't so concentrated, the energy....

...GL: How has living in New York shaped your work?

MR: It expanded it. Lou was the first one to show me around the city. Well, he showed me certain aspects of it. [laughs]

Anyway, most photographers have a certain look and a certain thing, and that's what you get. But whatever, I need a variety in my life. Even when people say, Well if you had done one look, Mick, you could have gotten a ton of advertising. I'm a bit like, Well that's not really what I wanted. I had no interest in a career. I wanted an adventure.

I mean, I was academically good. I got my master of arts. But what I really learned in Cambridge was how to be a really bad boy. You've got to remember it was the sixties so all that hippy sex drugs experimentation - I was part of that...

GL: And it got cranked up when you came to New York.

MR: ...Certainly David, Lou and Iggy were completely nuts, but they were absolutely individuals, and I was drawn to that whole thing, was in the thick of it.

GL: Was the quality of your work affected by that sort of chemical lifestyle, for good or for bad?

MR: At times, but I can go to the same places nowadays with a bunch of yoga and meditation and a cup of coffee and two puffs of marijuana, and I'm in exactly the same place. Throw in a massage beforehand, and I'm wild. So I've learned to tap into the same energy.


GL: You were ingesting other things. Did it help your work?

MR: I do think sometimes with very creative people - it won't make you creative, but certain creative people have produced great works under the influence of certain chemicals. But I do believe it's a law of diminishing return. And I also believe you absolutely do not need to romanticize.


GL: Do you like showing your work here?

MR: I mean, New York is still the center of the known universe.

GL: How do people react to it versus in your hometown of London?

MR: Well London gets very fashionable because London first and foremost wants to be fashionable.


GL: I have this theory that some of the most interesting men in life have feminine characteristics.

MR: Well I think that was the most interesting thing that came out of the '70s. I mean David exemplified that. There was a lot of talk about androgyny. And back then it was like if you didn't look a bit girly you can't get near the really hot young fit girls.

I mean I'm definitely male, but maybe a lot of men thought I wasn't. Not so much now but when I was younger. And Mick, David, Iggy - they were still appealing to a lot of men. A lot of men found them attractive.


GL: So what are you working on these days?

MR: You know, my range is very broad. I'll shoot anything that I like the look of.

I just shot Jack Houston. And some of this new McLaren car called the Spyder. A beautiful car. And he's terrific. A great guy. We're going to do something else.

I would have loved to have shot Clint Eastwood at the time of Josey Wales. Clint was a silly bugger with that chair, but I don't care about that because he's an artist, and if you take an artist's political opinion seriously, you're daft.


GL: And I know you've also got some shows coming up in Sweden and Italy.

MR: Right. And I've just done a bunch of co-signed prints with Iggy - none of the famous ones - and I'm working with a friend on some metal pieces/

One of my people said: "Mick, you're too diffuse." And I said: "Oh fuck it. It's too late for that."


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