Kaleidoscopic photos from 'the man who shot the 70s'

Kaleidoscopic photos from 'the man who shot the 70s'
With the release of Mick Rock's posthumous book 'Shot! by Rock,' longtime collaborator Liz Vap reflects on the career of a photographer who defined pop culture for half a century.

One day in the mid-80s, 14-year-old Liz Vap did her make-up and headed into Manhattan with her older brother to check out the latest record releases at Bleecker Bob’s. While Vap’s brother dropped by the music management company where he worked, Vap waited in the lobby.

Photographer Mick Rock (1948-2021) noticed Vap’s glamorous look, approached her, and asked if she was a make-up artist. “As you do at that age, I said, ‘Yes, yes I am,’” Vap remembers. “Mick said, ‘I really like your work. Would you like to do a job on Saturday?’ He gave me his business card and said he would pay me $100 to do make-up.”

After her brother got her price up to a proper $150, Vap emptied her father’s fishing tackle box, loaded it with fresh drug store cosmetics to create Vogue-inspired looks, and went on to secure a regular gig working with Rock through high school. A few years later, Vap started encountering a new wave of glam-inspired musicians like the Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Queens of the Stone Age. It was the perfect moment for Rock to come full circle in his career.

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.

Syd Barrett laying on a car.

Bono and Lady Gaga, 2009.

Born in 1948 in Hammersmith, London, Rock came of age with the Beats, and dropped acid at Cambridge University in the late 1960s. On his first trip, he picked up a camera, and stepped through the looking glass. 

“It’s hard to know where to begin,” Rock wrote in the introduction to the new book SHOT! by Rock (Insight Editions), a whirlwind journey through five decades on the scene, photographing ‘70s rock stars like David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, and Freddie Mercury.

Debbie Harry, 1978.

Janelle Monae, 2010.

Talking Heads

Closely inspired by the acclaimed 2016 documentary SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, the book chronicles Rock’s singular career. “The camera had given me access to this other magical world, and I love it. Not that I saw photography as a means of making a living,” Rock wrote. “I had not studied photography nor the work of other photographers. I simply followed my intuition. Mostly I shot my friends.”

Looking back at their time together Vap described Rock as “vivacious, creative, energetic, and fun.” His fascination with people went deeper than appearances; he was interested in who people were, making them feel seen and heard. Drawn to their essence, Rock crafted iconic images hung on countless bedroom walls, defining a hypnotic era of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll – just before video killed the radio star.

David Bowie contact sheet, 1973.

Queen contact sheet, 1974.

“In the documentary, Mick explains that at that time they were the outcasts. All of a sudden, now, these cultural institutions want to work with us. A lot of people grew up with these images, whether it’s Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover with Freddie’s arms crossed or Iggy Pop on the cover of Raw Power,” says Vap.

“But Mick was never stuck in the past and wanted to keep shooting up until his last shoot with Miley Cyrus. It was always about the music and being forward.”

Lou Reed at Blakes Hotel in London, 1975.

Shot! by Rock is out now via Insight Editions.

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