Anyone interested in rock photography knows the name Mick Rock, and anyone interested in rock—particularly of the classic and punk varieties—is aware of his images.
“I started taking pictures in late 1969,” says Rock. “The first pictures that people care about these days were probably of Syd Barrett, who was a friend of mine and had just left Pink Floyd.”
In addition to Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, Rock shot the covers of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, the Ramones’ End of the Century, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, Queen II, and Lou Reed’s Transformer. He’s also put together several books of his nigh-uncountable number of stills, concert photos, and candids.
For the past two years, Rock has been the in-house photographer for the W Hotel’s “Symmetry Live” concert series, shooting acts ranging from Cee Lo Green to Neon Trees. Tonight an exhibit of Rock’s images opens at the W New York-Downtown with a private party; the public opening is tomorrow, with the exhibit running through December 29. To mark the occasion, we asked the good-humored photographer five geeky questions about his work.
1. What is the nicest W you’ve stayed at?
I do like the very flashy one on Hollywood Boulevard. But the one in Barcelona, Spain, looks like a rocket ship when you view it from the other end of the beach. They gave me a room, and when I woke up in the morning, [through] these huge windows, all I could see was the sea. That’s probably the best hotel I’ve ever been in, full stop.
2. Which of the artists you’ve shot for this exhibit gave the performance you least expected from them?
You’ve got to understand, I hadn’t seen any of these people perform when I shot them for the W. If you’re going to ask me the ones that gave the most transfixing performances, there’s a lot to be said for Janelle Monáe and Theophilus London. Those were remarkable performances. They’re kind of rock-rap-dance, that wonderful modern fusion.
3. You’ve photographed some iconic album covers. During those shoots, which musician was on the most drugs?
I can’t really answer that. Maybe I was on more than the musicians. [laughs] Everybody shared in those days, darling. I don’t want to over-talk about my own youthful indulgences—it’s not very gentlemanly to talk about others’. Everybody was high in those days, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
4. What is the your favorite concert you’ve ever shot?
David Bowie in Santa Monica—that was pretty unbelievable—in the winter of ’72, and Bob Marley at Hammersmith Odeon in ’75. I prefer the smaller concerts, rather than the stadium concerts. I think most people do. In both those cases, you’re talking about 3,000-seaters. With David it’s hard—I saw so many great concerts of his—but that’s the one that stands out. Bob Marley, that was like a religious experience. To dig way back when I was a schoolboy, somebody told me in 1965 to see Bob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall in London. When he performed—first acoustically, then he came out with the Band, and did this amazing electric performance—there were a few boos, as I recall. But for me, age 14 or 15, I was totally mesmerized by that.
5. Which living musician that you haven’t shot would you like to shoot most?
A whole load of them! That Nicki Minaj—she’s a wild one. I’m very impressed by Adele, who has sold an unbelievable amount of records and is kind of old-fashioned, but she’s something else. I’d love to shoot Jay-Z or Eminem—probably Eminem [the most] of all of them.
The Mick Rock exhibit is on display at the W New York-Downtown from December 8 to December 29.