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Mick Rock: I Shot Bowie


The photographer had access to the rock star before it became more controlled

Photograph by Mick Rock

I photographed David Bowie for the first time in March 1972 in Birmingham Town Hall, a few months before the release of the Ziggy Stardust album. Someone had given me a press copy of Hunky Dory, and I played "Life on Mars?" so often that I fucked up the record and had to buy my own copy after a few days. There was nothing out there like Bowie at the time -- he was always more than just the music. He would absorb all these different influences -- from the Velvet Underground to Kabuki to the Living Theater to Jacques Brel to Jean Cocteau, and, of course, mime, which he learned from the fabulous Lindsay Kemp -- and fuse them into this unique thing. Looking back, I realize I had an access to David that nobody had after Ziggy, when everything became more controlled. It's a bit like Al Wertheimer and his pictures of Elvis Presley before the Colonel put the clampers on photographers. I was just there because I was fascinated by David, but I was also there at the right time and the right place. I was a regular little propagandist in those days--not just the thousands of photographs I took, but also the videos I directed ("Life on Mars?" "Jean Genie," "Space Oddity," "John, I'm Only Dancing"). But the fact is I was a true believer. To me, he was always exotic, whatever phase he was in. Now he's the Howard Hughes of rock 'n' roll, but he's more than just a rock legend -- in the U.K., he's a national treasure.

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