The 1990s monetised/weaponised social association with fame and, arguably, laid the ground for Instagram and Tik Tok to do their neat little poodle shits all over the concept of what is an artist.
Mick Rock, who has died aged 72, had a wallet-full of fame association and, perhaps, swam in the star dressing room world almost as an equal in some ways, to the subjects of his photography. Where his skills met the carefully constructed images of rock music ultras such as Iggy Pop, Bowie, Lou Reed, The Ramones and their less desperate step children, from Bono to The Prodigy, was the point where shy, suburban punk kids became superstars. He understood his role in the process and was essential to it, as much as director of photography, Charles Lang, was to Marilyn Monroe’s fame, or Vittorio Storaro was to the decade-defining mood of Apocalypse Now. Rock was the DOP of rocknroll fame, particularly during that dirtiest of decades, the 1970s.
Mick’s talent didn’t depend on the rocknroll circus alone to flourish - he could find the rocknroll in any theatrical situation, as evidenced by his nailing of Japanese kabuki actor Nakamura Kanzaburo in the book Tamashii - backstage shots that are as dark as any of Lou Reed, on-stage as intense as any of Iggy. He obviously had the knack of being in the same space as his subjects but also of being of the same space, not just blending in but adding to whatever energies were being created before, during and after a performance.
Knowing when the performance was ‘on’ was crucial - what happened off and around the stage told the story as much or more than what happened mid guitar solo; the moments when an artist is still alive with their act, when the act and the human have merged are rare currency and most artists only get to spend it once or twice in a career. Mick Rock managed to be around when it counted. ‘Capturing’ is a much used word when it comes to photography but with Mick Rock it’s very accurate. He took the images, stole them, when they were sparking. Caught essence and meaning just at the point when it boiled and bubbled. A feat made more impressive by the fact that so much of rocknroll is ridiculous most of the time. Mick’s photography became important because it helped make the moment important.
Mick Rock (1948-2021)
Visit Mick Rock's website here
Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com
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