It’s impossible to imagine rock and fashion without the other-worldly touch of David Bowie.
You could make the same argument regarding rock photography and Mick Rock.
Rock is the photographer who shot the Seventies. Blondie, Queen and Roxy Music posed for his camera. Yet the 67-year-old is most acclaimed for his pictures of those he dubbed the decade’s terrible trio – Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.
Bowie is due to release new album Blackstar on his 69th birthday on January 8. His musical Lazarus opened this week to mixed reviews, while Gorillaz have hinted at a collaboration. Despite such fevered activity, Bowie remains music’s most enigmatic figure. He hasn’t toured since 2004 and rarely leaves New York, where he has lived with former supermodel wife Iman for 15 years.
Bowie landed as the flamboyant, glitter-clad, make-up covered, red-haired extra-terrestrial Ziggy in 1972
Or maybe, as Rock says, today’s musicians don’t have the same originality as his Seventies idols. So it’s both timely and a treat to flick through Rock’s images celebrating Bowie’s incarnation as Ziggy.
Bowie first landed as the flamboyant, glitter-clad, make-up covered, red-haired extra-terrestrial Ziggy in 1972. Prancing across stages, Ziggy broke down lines between male and female, earthly and other-worldly, glam rock diva and singer-songwriter.
Rock captured the chameleon in every guise – performing, slumped on chairs, smoking tabs or navel gazing near mirrors. It‘s collected superbly in Rock’s new book.
Over half of the images in The Rise Of David Bowie have never previously been seen. Rock took Loaded through the most significant images, explaining what it was like to pin down one of rock’s slipperiest, glitteriest shape shifters.
This image was taken on stage in Cleveland in 1972.
Bowie had just begun creating his Ziggy Stardust character, and Rock was instantly transfixed. “I realised there was something very special about David,” he says. “In many ways it’s probably true to say that he somehow hypnotised me. There was something totally fascinating and original about both his music and that persona. I wanted more of it from the start.”
But Rock didn’t have any idea of the lengths to which Bowie would take the creation. He said, “If there was a masterplan, it was entirely David’s. He was very ambitious and expressed that overtly. He was projecting heavily. I believe it may have had something to do with his Buddhist studies of the time.” Bowie’s Buddhist leanings were more than affectation, having had his head turned by Heinrich Harrer’s influential 1952 memoir Seven Years In Tibet when he was just 19.
Clad in extraordinary garb, Bowie is in very ordinary surroundings, preparing for a show in Birmingham in March 1973.
Rock was used to capturing the truth behind Bowie’s masks because he knew him from the start. The photographer was a lowly snapper at satirical magazine Oz when he first met the singer in 1971. At the time, Bowie was viewed by many as a one-hit wonder after the “novelty” single Space Oddity two years earlier.
Rock says, “Someone had given me a copy of David’s new album Hunky Dory. I was totally inspired when I listened to it, so I got an assignment to both interview and photograph David. I went up to Birmingham Town Hall to meet him and see him perform. Although there were only about 400 people in the audience and I was the sole photographer, I was totally blown away both by the music and the unique dynamics.”
Two days later, Rock went to interview Bowie at his home, Haddon Hall in Beckenham, Kent. “It was a very stimulating two-hour chat,” says Rock. “David was a big Syd Barrett fan and was happy to hear that I had photographed and was a friend of Syd.”
Taken in 1973, Rock feels this image sums up Bowie’s charisma.
“Listen to the Ziggy Stardust album,” he says. “David really wanted to be a ‘star’. He was not a star by any means when he recorded it, but the ‘star’ obsession is all over that album’s lyrics.”
Rock knew the access he had to Bowie was rare. “Besides the photos I also did several more interviews with David,” he says. “I still possess at least one of the interview tapes. I also liked David personally. Because of the great access he gave me, I suspect he instinctively trusted me. I became a visual recorder of what I saw and probably an important disseminator of David’s ideas and the magic of his persona.”
Bowie once said about Rock, “Mick sees me the way I see myself.”
But Rock didn’t just photograph Bowie in guises like this, on-stage in challenging catsuits. He also directed the videos for his classic singles Life On Mars? and The Jean Genie. “I think it was a very instinctive and organic relationship,” says Rock. “I liked to photograph and be around David and he felt comfortable having me around. Above all I wanted him to like the photos I took. I had no other agenda. And of course he was a fantastic and very self-aware subject. It wasn’t complicated!”
Man in the mirror
Beloved by fans, this 1972 photo at Bowie’s home was the inspiration for the cover of his 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed.
It’s one of Bowie’s most famous shots. “I don’t usually like to comment in any depth about the power of any of my images,” explains Rock. “After all, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But this shot has turned out to be a very transcendent photo. Part of it may be about the light, which gives it a certain timeless quality. Afternoon light filtered through a big window is really the prettiest light there is. And David was a very pretty young man. It probably has something to do with the mirror itself, whose reflection added to the quality of the light and gave a depth to the image. I often think I should have titled it David Through The Looking Glass when I started to show it in galleries and museums. In the end, it is what it is and I’m happy people still like to look at it some 43 years after it was taken. It’s a split second of magic plucked from the ether.”
Not many have access to Bowie but Rock curated his latest book with the man himself. “We communicate by email at regular intervals,” he says. “We were able to put this entire beautiful book together. My last photographic session with David was in 2002 in New York. I have a lot of truly great photos from that session. I also have video footage too. I always love to shoot David, but I couldn’t possibly say whether it will happen again. That would be David’s call.”
The Rise of David Bowie, 1972–1973 is available from Taschen for £450. Each copy is signed by Bowie and Rock.
Loaded freelance reporter Ian Wade writes about music and TV for newspapers and websites. He is also a music publicist. Follow him on Twitter at @WadeyWade