‘Shot!’ turns camera on Mick Rock

Written by

Veteran photographer Mick Rock defined a musical era. Now the camera has been turned on him, in “Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.”

In the early 1970s, rock fused with style and fluid sexuality in a moment of extreme exhibitionism. Veteran music photographer Mick Rock was there, and he helped define the images of dozens of artists from the glam and punk rock periods.

Rock created iconic record covers for Lou Reed, Queen and Iggy Pop, and music videos for David Bowie.

He also lived the period as passionately as he recorded it, winding up almost dead in his early 40s with a heart attack. He got back to work. Recent subjects include Snoop Dogg, Father John Misty and TV on the Radio.

Now the camera has been turned on him and the result is Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. It’s directed by music video maker Barnaby Clay.

DnA met Rock and Clay at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to talk about their collaboration, why young artists look up to glam, how to capture charisma and who has it today.

Matt Holzman, host of KCRW’s newest podcast The Document, watched the film and tells DnA: “It’s a great movie. It’s a little long. It has some self-indulgent parts in it. But it just absolutely captures a time and a place. It makes you think. It’s honest. Mick Rock talks about the fact that this whole world is kind of shallow. He likes pretty people, and that’s a lot of what he captured. I just think it’s a remarkable movie. And I actually learned quite a bit.”

Clay told DnA his experience making music videos, and directing a documentary about a band on the road, helped him get the gig.

“We essentially had that shared history of documenting musicians,” Clay said.

“And he was under 40. That was important too,” Rock added. “I didn’t want some old queen laboring over the ’70s. Instead I got a young one laboring over the ’70s… I wanted something different.”

Barnaby Clay, left, and Mick Rock at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Photo by Avishay Artsy. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Clay said Rock captured an important moment in music and cultural history, and he wanted to honor that in the documentary.

“When you line all that work up, it really is like a visual viewpoint of that entire period. Because obviously there were a lot of photographers around during that period, but Mick’s images somehow stand out, they do, there’s no doubt about it,” Clay said.

In addition, Rock helped shape an image of musicians that influenced the current generation’s visual aesthetic.

“All these contemporary bands, they grew up listening to these records and seeing these record covers that Mick shot. So all their artistic choices have been informed in some way by some of the work that Mick has done,” Clay said. “So it’s a cyclical situation.”

“It’s a sick situation,” Rock joked.

Rock found that a combination of practicing yoga and using cocaine helped prepare him for photographing musicians and fueled him for years, until the drug-induced heart attack that nearly killed him. Still, he credits yoga and transcendental meditation as part of an “inner approach” that allowed him “to open myself up to these people and to the possibilities.”