If you’re passing through the sunny climes of Los Angeles in the next few weeks, be sure to pay a visit to TASCHEN’s vibrant gallery on Beverley Boulevard. This week they’re joined by legendary photographer Mick Rock to celebrate his new book The Rise of David Bowie—a hologram-covered, sapphire-coloured hardback filled with some of the most electrifying glam-rock shots of David at his peak.
Recall some of your favourite photographic portraits of the rock stars of the 70s and it’s pretty likely that Mick Rock was the man behind the lens. Before he spent his career shooting the likes of The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Talking Heads, Andy Warhol and pretty much every pop culture icon since 1970, Mick shot David Bowie around the time of his groundbreaking 1972 Top of the Pops performance, and subsequently joined him as an official photographer for the next two years. Off the back of that gig, which catapulted him into the living rooms and hearts of people all over the world, Bowie became one of the biggest and most hounded stars on the planet, and Mick was along for the ride.
Capturing quiet moments on the road, wild, ecstatic performances and some more experimental, artistically choreographed photographs, Mick’s shots of David through the Ziggy Stardust days were those of a close friend and besotted fan. As well as putting together a portrait of Bowie during that period, Mick’s work contributed to a plethora of Bowie’s album artwork, posters, merchandise and even produced and directed videos for hits such as Space Oddity and Life on Mars?
But really it’s the reams and reams of photographs of David that are the most striking. We are mostly familiar with the story of Brixton-born Bowie and his rise to fame, but to closely examine Mick’s photographs and see the dynamism of the man on such an intimate level is truly extraordinary. Lauded worldwide for bringing colour and a never-before-seen vibrancy to the somewhat bland state of pop music in the early seventies, what Mick’s photos do are hone in on something that Bowie absolutely nailed: his costumes. Well, were they even costumes? His skintight, metallic stage outfits that shocked the elderly inspired countless teens to express themselves through clothing and apply daring make-up as homage to their new king. His purple satin three piece suit with high-heeled boots suggested an office worker from outer space, while his feminine leotards and delicate blouses hung over his tiny, girlish frame revealed a more experimental, intimate side of Bowie. To think that these ensembles inspired people all over the world to experiment, be comfortable with their sexuality and break free of the norm is overwhelming, and exactly why this book is so relevant today.
Hats off to Mick for dutifully capturing and archiving all of this weird, kaleidoscopic glory. The shots of Bowie applying his make-up before a show, his cheeky grin to Mick as he smokes a fag and cuddles a cushion and the extortionate amounts of glitter in every costume and his general extra terrestrial aesthetic remind you to be grateful to have been on the same planet as the same time as him. This inspirational, electrifying show and publication is the documentation of a legend by a fellow legend, and is definitely not to be missed.
This is Bowie on his UK Summer tour in 1973. He’s decked out in his trademark pink make-up with the otherworldly golden daub on his forehead. This is a great example of one of his costumes that shocked the world: a figure-hugging, kaleidoscopic glitter bomb of a leotard that showed off his effeminate legs and left little to the imagination. Part circus entertainer, part alien, this is one of Bowie’s most iconic looks.
Mick was great at setting up shots that appear candid but are actually meticulously planned. Similarly, Bowie was fantastic at playing the enthusiastic jester on stage but could also turn the melancholy up to eleven in his down-time. This archetypal British scene in which Bowie stares into his own reflection is tender, sweet and melancholic: a perfect portrait.
This off-the-cuff shot sees Bowie surrounded by intricately designed costumes and clothing. He’s staring straight at Mick with a powerful expression and—as the chair is almost hidden—seems to be hovering without gravity in mid air like a beautiful, menacing spaceman.
Mick Rock: Shooting for Stardust, The Rise of David Bowie and Co. is on show at TASCHEN Gallery, L.A until October 11