Mick Rock didn’t set out to be one of the world’s most celebrated music photographers, but he does seem to have the knack for it. His iconic portraits of David Bowie can be seen at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s new David Bowie Is exhibit and also at a complementary photo exhibit at the Templar Hotel. Here, the “man who photographed the seventies,” shares his secrets for success. (For starters – enough about the seventies.)
Don’t overthink it
I don’t really know how it works, it just works. I don’t sit and plan anything. I get a feel for the situation and I follow my instincts. Some photographers [have their methods] and they take the same picture every time. I didn’t come out of photography. I studied literature and modern languages, did some LSD, picked up a camera and found it entertaining and then someone gave me five quid to take pictures of a local band and I was off and running. I guess I think of myself like a cook. Season, stir, taste, season, stir, taste. Eventually the photo becomes what it’s going to be. If you don’t throttle the situation the pictures start to take themselves.
Success isn’t a resting place
God bless David Bowie. I have the deepest, most profound respect for him and for his work. He has never been constrained by form. He kept changing it up. Some things he did were more popular than others, but that doesn’t matter to him. David is a true artist. He’s always thinking about creating and what he’s going to do next. Ziggy Stardust made such a huge impression, but he slipped out of that because he knew that it would become a trap. God bless the Rolling Stones, but they’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing since the sixties. I do not use the word genius lightly, but if David Bowie is not a genius, then there is no such thing.
Being stuck in the past is just being stuck
My famous photos [of seventies icons like Bowie, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger] are what get me through the doors because people have this massive obsession with the seventies, even though I don’t. It’s funny because unlike back in the seventies when I made hardly any money, today I could just live off the past if I wanted to. I have no interest in that. For this documentary [that is currently being made about Mick Rock’s life], I said I didn’t want to have anyone over 40 working on it precisely because I want to be more than “the guy who shot the seventies.” That’s what they call me, but it’s not true. I never shot The Carpenters.
Meditate now, think later
Every morning I stand on my head and do a yoga workout. Even in my chemical years, I always did yoga before a shoot, which should tell you how long I’ve been doing it. It relaxes me, it sharpens my senses and it helps me focus. I always tell people to just do it. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, just do the exercises.
Play the fool
I once read an interview with this very famous Hollywood photographer named George Hurrell, who said he got it figured out once he started acting like an idiot behind the camera. I thought, oh – that sounds like the way I approach things. I like to get the energy moving and have fun, maybe act a bit silly. I think that helps. People think: If this photographer’s looking like a big jerk-off, maybe it’s okay if I do. I like to catch my subjects off balance a bit. Debbie Harry once said if Mick Rock were a drag, his name would be Miss Direction.