David Bowie

Frame and fortune

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2012, 12:00am


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'If it makes a noise I'll shoot it,' says music photographer Mick Rock of his recent work with artists such as Janelle Monae, Cee Lo Green and Lady Gaga. During his many years in the business he has snapped some of the most influential people in music. In his dark sunglasses and long, tousled hair, Rock has the presence of a rock star himself.

Dubbed 'the Man Who Shot the Seventies', he is in town to open Rocked, a travelling exhibition of some of his most famous pictures and one or two new surprises. The exhibition is part of tonight's launch event for the W Hong Kong hotel's new cocktail and DJ bar, Woobar. Music will be provided by DJ Lincoln Medley and Beijing rockers Queen Sea Big Shark, though the main attraction will be Rock and the stories surrounding his pictures.

But isn't a hotel an odd choice for a photography exhibition? 'The W were looking to up their music credibility and they gave me the opportunity to work with a lot of young artists,' explains Rock, adding, 'I like working with the young ones, they taste better.'

He also prefers the freedom provided by a hotel space as opposed to a gallery. 'We've actually got some bigger prints. There are some huge ones. I think the Gaga and Bono one is 72 by 48 [inches].'

The picture he refers to is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition and Rock says it came about spontaneously when Bono asked Rock to snap a picture of himself and Lady Gaga. 'What's interesting about that shot is that it was taken on my little party camera. People get all excited about megapixels and this, that and the other, but a US$150 camera took that and it's beautiful.'

The exhibition has been travelling around W Hotels in America, and although each show has been slightly different, the bulk of the images are some of Rock's most memorable shots. 'Obviously, there was no way to avoid some of my classic images, but we wanted to get that mix of artists.'

Classics include the Queen II album cover shot which took on mythical status when it was recreated in the video for Bohemian Rhapsody. There's also the photo of the Iggy Pop 'back bend', which Rock describes as 'pure rock'n'roll.'

One of Rock's personal favourites is a shot of David Bowie and Mick Ronson in full glam get-up in a train restaurant car. 'It's a very famous shot that I sold a load of prints of. David and Mick looking like a right couple of fairies having a British Rail lunch,' says Rock. 'It's so mundane, the context; and they look so extraordinary, even today, nearly 40 years later.'

Rock is most widely known for his links to Bowie. 'I connected with David immediately. You could call him my muse, but he wasn't my boyfriend or anything. Although there were those that wondered,' he says.

Rock says Bowie was a fascinating subject because he was more than just a musician. 'He was a style icon, but he went beyond that with his physical beauty,' he says, adding that Bowie was a natural who enjoyed photo shoots.

Some subjects are photogenic, says Rock, while others simply have that aura that can be transmitted through photographs. 'When you think about the history of rock'n'roll - I mean, with all due respect to Mick and Keith, it's not that they're not beautiful - but people love them because they've got the heat, like a couple of dogs rutting. I suppose that's a lot of their appeal.

'David in his prime, I don't think anyone would dispute that he was something else entirely.'

Rock's nickname in the past proved a bit of a hindrance. He used to feel some of his work in the '80s and '90s, with bands like M?tley Cr?e, was overlooked. Today, however, he is more accepting - so much so that he's given the go-ahead for a documentary of his work by video director Barney Clay.

'I was tired of the past for a [while], but I realise that art galleries and museums are most interested in the pictures from the '70s. That's the stuff that's worth money nowadays' says Rock, adding that the advantage of his reputation is that people seek him out today, allowing him to work with the cutting edge of today's talent.

'I've worked with some amazing new people. Janelle Monae - she's got a wonderful aesthetic, and it's entirely hers. She even does her own hair, she's totally self-styled, like David was.'

Rock then rattles off a host of new artists that have inspired him to keep shooting, including Skrillex. 'My daughter tells me he's great, so I'm going to do him, too. I'm going to nail the little bugger.'