'While you're in front of my camera I love you, you're the most important person in the universe; it's a bit like being an uptown hooker," says photographer Mick Rock. "I can overcome any difficulties. I remember in the '80s being broke, blown out. [I had] overdone it. One lady came to me who wasn't particularly talented or striking-looking, but she had money. And she wasn't easy to work with because her self-esteem was of a fairly low level. But you know what? I got some great images out of her." On Friday, November 18, the Morrison Hotel Fine Art Music Photography in La Jolla will host an opening-night reception for Rock's exhibit, Through the Lens of Mick Rock.
Rock has been in the business of shooting rock stars for over 30 years, during which he has developed his own method of brushing aside the attitude and drama inherent in dealing with most celebrities. "Recently [I shot] one lady, a singer, and maybe there was something between her and the magazine, but [for whatever reason] they weren't getting any joy out of her. I went in there and got down on my knees, kissed her hand."
In 1972, shortly after he began taking photos of David Bowie, Rock shot performance pictures of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, both of whom he had met through Bowie. "This was just as David was breaking out, around the release of Ziggy Stardust. " One photograph includes all three music legends together.
When asked what elements make up the ideal photograph, Rock responds, "Above all, it needs to be memorable. If it's not, then all the rest of it is irrelevant. It's like a story. It's not just about its physical elements."
In what he calls "the early years," Rock says he paid little attention to other photographers. Over time he became aware of a select few. "Man Ray is the most interesting. Not only was he a photographer, he was a painter, he made films, he was an artist."
Rock, who has taken hundreds of photographs of everyone from Debbie Harry to the Killers, does not consider any one picture to be his greatest accomplishment. "I nearly died nine years ago; I had quadruple-bypass surgery. I had to resurrect myself from that and put my life back together." Seven books featuring collections of Rock's work (including Raw Power, in which David Bowie contributed 15,000 words of text) are sold at galleries and on his website, mickrock.com. "The stuff that was cult-y then is very much a power now."
Rock insists that his favorite subject to photograph is whoever is in front of his camera at the time. "A lot of people will probably expect me to say David Bowie and Debbie Harry, who were the most photogenic people to come before my camera. To this day, [Debbie] looks pretty good. She's admitted to having face-lifts, but still, you've got to have the bones to hang whatever of the skin is left on, and they are still stunning people to shoot. Lou Reed in the '70s was fantastically mysterious subject matter."
Rock currently resides in Staten Island, New York. "Yes, it's great to have stuff in your bag, it's great to have a past, but it's [more] important to be relevant." To his 15-year-old daughter's delight, Rock has recently taken pictures of rappers Sean Paul and the Game and is preparing for a project that has "something to do with that 50 Cent character." -- Barbarella
Through the Lens of Mick Rock
Opening-night reception with photographer Mick Rock
Friday, November 18
6 to 9 p.m.
Morrison Hotel Gallery
1230 Prospect Street
Info: 858-551-0835 or www.morrisonhotelgallery.com