Mick Rock was the man behind album covers such as Lou Reed’s Transformer, and The Stooges’ Raw Power, as well as David Bowie’s iconic Starman video, and was the creator of almost literally every photograph that has built up our image of the glam rock era. So even if you do not know him by name or are not familiar with him as a person, he is already embedded in our consciousness. But it seems that he is much more than a rock photographer. With eloquence and charisma, Rock reveals himself to be simultaneously the man behind the period he captured, waiting and watching and then snapping as all photographers do, and an element within the period, one of the cogs that powered the engine, a friend and a character, a force in his own right – something like what Hunter S. Thompson was in the world of journalism. This is why one watches Shot as one might watch the documentary of a rock star, and why the film opens on a recreation of his admittance to hospital following three heart attacks at the age of forty.
Rock talks about his life up until that point, describing days and sometimes even weeks over which he would not sleep, the consumption of more drugs than the rockers he was photographing, endless parties across the board, from London to New York. What is interesting about Rock is that he is defined by a series of perfect contradictions. He is working class and educated at Cambridge, his classic education at university clashes beautifully with the education he received from his subjects, he is simultaneously a scholar of the great British and French poets and the great British and American rock artists. At the same time he is vulgar and coarse yet graceful and highly eloquent.
Read at Unsung Films: Anton Corbijn.
And so too are his subjects contradictory, just contrast Bowie with Iggy Pop, or Syd Barret with Lou Reed. In his images of these artists, these contradictions emerge. Rock‘s work is perhaps best when it succeeds in capturing the energy or the aura of the artist. Strangely, almost ironically, some of Rock‘s most evocative images are his stillest. The image on the cover of Reed’s Coney Island Baby, one of Rock‘s favourite images of Lou, is a good example of this. Now, Rock is vast collection of experiences and insights. The life he has lived seems almost unfathomable. At times, he stands amongst his thousands upon thousands of photographs, sorted and stored and gathering dust. The time he was destined for has long since passed. Other times he ponders over past decisions and regrets, mostly concluding that he has none.
He comes across as something of a fatalist – on numerous occasions he states that he was destined to be a rock photographer and that he was simply fulfilling a duty. Part of his reason for believing this is his name and partly, he states, because he had always been tall, skinny, and English. But most of all, and this is also how it comes across, he believes that what he did came from an endless wellspring of curiosity for his subjects. In the film, there are long stretches in which one can listen to private interviews Rock had with Bowie and Reed, and in which he demonstrates this fascination, doing nothing but probing for what he wanted to find underneath the image. But Bowie states that guys like him and Lou Reed, and Elvis and Mick Jagger, hadn’t really ever existed behind the image anyway. That the images in our imaginations are all that’s there.
Watch the trailer for SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock here: