Photographer Mick Rock: ‘Social media means we won’t see another Lou Reed’

The veteran, who also snapped David Bowie and Iggy Pop, talks of the birth of the ‘real underground’ and why it won’t happen again

Veteran English photographer Mick Rock embodies the music scene of the 1970s, from his famous shots of Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Freddie Mercury, Iggy Pop and David Bowie, right down to his convenient birth surname.

A bystander who almost accidentally shaped the subversive look of an era, Rock is now to release images from his archive to mark the birthday of his late friend, Reed, in March.

Mick Rock.
Mick Rock. Photograph: Simon Lewis

The 72-year-old, who took a string of key portraits and performance shots, including the covers of the seminal Reed album Transformer and for Iggy Pop, and the Stooges’ hugely influential Raw Power, told the Observer of his regret that original young talent cannot develop together in the same way today. “The three of them, Bowie, Reed and Pop were part of a real underground movement. I called them “the terrible trio”. They had real edge, and it was fascinating to watch.”

Rock believes any musician with a fresh sound today is quickly picked up on social media and exposed too soon to a global audience: “There is none of that time to play together and influence each other today because of the internet. Anything can go viral now and become successful immediately.”

Bowie Saxophone, 1973.
Bowie Saxophone, 1973. Photograph: Mick Rock 2021

Rock went on to explain how he first spotted the young performers that would come to dominate the music scene. “Lou and I got on from the first when David introduced us,” said the Londoner and self-described “relic” this weekend, speaking from his home in New York. “He was clearly a genius and a unique character. Bowie used to call him the Master.”

Rock, who took the shot for the cover of Transformer while Reed was playing live in 1972 at the Kings Cross Cinema, now the Scala, and the shot of the Stooges for Raw Power the next night, went into photography almost by chance after graduating from Cambridge at the end of the 1960s with a degree in modern languages.

“Lou and Iggy had never really been able to sell records, and then Transformer came along and it really did transform his life,” he said. “Raw Power, which came out a year later, was not successful at the time. As Iggy said, ‘it went straight into the 50 cent bin’, although its reputation is huge now.” “The rebellion was real but it was also part of their image,” said Rock. “When I photographed them I was simply responding to what was there in front of me. I reacted to what I saw.”

The fertile period also saw the birth of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona and the release of the Mott the Hoople album All the Young Dudes, which, like Transformer and Raw Power, was produced by Bowie.

Reed helped pick the Transformer image, which Rock admits “had dropped out of focus during darkroom processing”.

Midaro with Lou Reed print.
Midaro with Lou Reed print. Photograph: Mick Rock and Fin Dac

“Lou said immediately that was the shot,” recalled Rock. “David was generally not so bothered with the photographs, while Iggy was out of his mind most of the time. Who’d believe he is the one of them who is still alive 50 years later?”

Rock is releasing new images, titled Midaro, as part of a collaboration with the London-based street artist Fin Dac, whose work he admires. And on 2 March, Reed’s birthday, he will be auctioning limited edition prints of three of his favourite archive images.

The photographer, who has just shot a cover image for Miley Cyrus’ new album, is also to auction three of the Midaro images to raise funds for the NHS, mental-health charity Calm, and Care International. And his verdict on Cyrus, who he once suggested in these pages was predominantly a visual performer? Well, he was impressed by her “energy” and comparative maturity. “In some ways she was much older at 28 then Lou Reed was at that age back in ‘72.”

All prints will be available to buy from 2 March at west-contemporary-editions.com.

• This article was amended on 31 January 2021. An earlier version incorrectly said 12 Mick Rock images would be sold at auction to mark Lou Reed’s birthday, rather than three.

This article was further amended on 3 February 2021. An earlier version incorrectly said that Calm was an NHS charity.

Contributor

Vanessa Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

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