All The Rage

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Mick Rock talks about shooting Bowie, Lady Gaga and why he's collaborating with John Varvatos

October 5, 2010 |  7:05 am

Photo On Saturday (Oct. 2), legendary rock ’n’ roll photographer Mick Rock turned the Santa Monica Bloomingdale’s men’s department into a backstage lounge.

Rock, who launched his career in the early ’70s shooting Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, flew out from New York to christen the John Varvatos shop in Bloomies by shooting portraits of shoppers who shelled out more than $250 on Varvatos jeans and Converse sneakers. Rock was also promoting his latest book, “Mick Rock: Exposed,” signing copies for customers.

In a nearly four-decade career, Rock has shot music icons ranging from Lou Reed and Iggy Pop to Madonna, Bono and Lady Gaga. He also dabbles in fashion and has shot Kate Moss, so he’s more than cool with partnering with designer Varvatos. “People say why are you doing this?” he says. “One, John [Varvatos] is a friend of mine. Two, he crossed my palm with some silver. And three, I got a bunch of free clothes.”

Rock chatted with All the Rage, while getting ready for his close-ups.

You've worked with David Bowie since Ziggy Stardust -- in the days before musicians had stylists.
David is much more than music and it always was with him. He was long, long ahead of everybody. He was so prescient. He had influence on all kinds of things like makeup on women – Ziggy Stardust makeup.

Who else did you enjoy working with?
Debbie Harry. In her prime, she was extraordinary -- there’s nobody -- all due respect to Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Kate Moss?
I shot her raw and rock ’n’ roll for V magazine. It was Johnny Rotten meets Debbie Harry.
She’s smart. There’s an old English phrase: There’s no flies on Kate Moss.

What’s the difference between rock ’n’ roll and fashion photography?
Rock ’n’ roll is an attitude. Even though I get people in incredible clothes, it's a lesser concern than the personality.

[In "Mick Rock: Exposed," we look at a suave Bryan Ferry wearing a tropical khaki suit] This is great men’s style.
That was in Holland Park, London, in 1975. Ferry's "our man in Havana" look.

Lady Gaga?
She has an echo of Ziggy Stardust in there. She’s musically talented. It’s a mistake to trivialize her because there’s been so much of it.

[We look at a picture of Ronnie Spector flashing her underwear]
There's Ronnie Spector in her knickers. I might not have published that if she were wearing a thong. It wasn’t about gettng a cheap thrill.

What bands do you enjoy shooting now?
I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love the KiIllers. ... I love the Scissor Sisters.

Which of your portraits is John Varvatos' favorite?
Syd Barrett [Pink Floyd's tragic founding member, who passed away in 2006].

-- Max Padilla

Photo: Mick Rock at the John Varvatos event at Bloomingdales. Courtesy John Varvatos