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Mick Rock, the flamboyant photographer who captured the giants of rock music and was responsible for some of the most iconic images of the likes of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Blondie, the Sex Pistols and many more, has died. He was 72.
Rock’s official Twitter account posted a statement confirming his passing on Thursday night, although a cause of death was not revealed. “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side,” the statement read. “Those who had the pleasure of existing in his orbit, know that Mick was always so much more than “The Man Who Shot the 70s.” He was a photographic poet — a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.”
Rising to prominence in the early 1970s, Rock shot most of the biggest acts during the decade and took famous photos such as the Iggy Pop “backbend” image from 1972, the Lou Reed picture that adorned the cover of Transformer, and captured much of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era. He also provided images for album covers for the likes of The Stooges, the Ramones and the Queen album Queen II, which would later become an element of the band’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video. More recently, he photographed the likes of Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae, Cee Lo Green and Lady Gaga.
Born Michael Rock in London in 1948, his education and upbringing were a far cry from his later rock n’ roll lifestyle, attending first Emanuel School and then Cambridge University where he read Medieval and Modern Languages. At Cambridge, Rock took up photography and made friends with local musicians including former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, who commissioned him to shoot the cover photography of his 1970 album The Madcap Laughs.
His career-defining break came with meeting David Bowie in early 1972 and he would go on to be the star’s official photographer and videographer for the next few years. Rock chronicled Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era, shooting the star on tour, as well as the cover of 1973 album Pin Ups and for video shoots for songs like “Life on Mars.” From this era, Rock was responsible for memorable images like backstage shot of Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed as well as the shot of a glammed-up Bowie and guitarist Mick Ronson taking a train ride in England.
For Bowie, he also directed the videos for “Life on Mars,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “Jean Genie,” and “Space Oddity.”
As part of Bowie’s inner circle, Rock met and shot the musician’s friends, collaborators and contemporaries. For Reed, he shot the cover of the seminal 1972 album Transformer and 1975’s Coney Island Baby, for Iggy Pop and the Stooges he provided cover photography for 1973’s Raw Power, for Queen the covers for albums Queen II (1974) and Sheer Heart Attack (1974), for The Ramones he shot the cover of End of the Century (1980) and for Joan Jett he shot the cover of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981).
Rock was also responsible for the production stills from the cult movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), which he would later publish in a series of books. His career was at its zenith in the 1970s, but he continued to be one of the foremost music photographers in the decades since, shooting the likes of Motley Crue, R.E.M., Madonna and Lenny Kravitz and more recent artists such as the Kings of Leon, Daft Punk, Alicia Keys. For Miley Cyrus, he shot the cover image for her 2020 album Plastic Hearts.
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