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Mick Rock, Sought-After Rock Photographer, Dies at 72

Mick Rock, whose striking images of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, as well as more recent stars like Theophilus London and Snoop Dogg, made him one of rock and pop’s most acclaimed photographers, died on Thursday at a hospital in Staten Island. He was 72.

His family posted news of his death on his website. No cause was given.

Mr. Rock was often called “the man who shot the ’70s” because of his photographs that captured the rock stars of that flamboyant decade, both in his native England and in New York. He lived the rock lifestyle as he was photographing it, becoming part of the scene inhabited by Mr. Bowie, Mr. Reed and the rest.

“I was drawn to the good, the bad and the wicked,” he said in “Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock,” a 2016 documentary about him directed by Barney Clay.

“I’ve lived a very wild life because I’ve been hanging out with a lot of very wild people,” he added. “And the camera just kind of led me by the nose.”

Some of his photographs adorned memorable album covers: the bleached-out shot of Mr. Reed on “Transformer” (1972); the eerily dark image of the members of Queen on “Queen II” (1974), later recreated in the much-viewed music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Others captured stars in poses — Mr. Bowie looking androgynously enigmatic; Ms. Harry, of the group Blondie, looking like Marilyn Monroe. And still others caught performances or unguarded moments.

“I am not in the business of documenting or revealing personalities,” Mr. Rock wrote in a diary early in his career. “I am in the business of freezing shadows and bottling auras.”

Befriending the stars of the day, which included taking the same drugs they were often taking, gave him the sort of access that most photographers can only dream of. As Mr. Reed put it in the introduction to one of Mr. Rock’s books, “Mick Rock was so much a part of things that it was quite natural to have him snapping away and think of him as invisible.”

But Mr. Rock wasn’t limited to one era. He continued photographing rockers, rappers and other music personalities for the next 40 years, even after a heart attack in 1996 led him to embrace a quieter lifestyle. (“All I am is a retired degenerate,” he joked in a 2011 interview with The New York Times.) In recent decades he had photographed Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, Rufus Wainwright and many others.

“It was barely over a year ago I sat with you by the window listening to Bowie stories,” Miley Cyrus wrote on Twitter after learning of his death. “It was my honor.”

Mr. Rock often said he was fated to have the career he had because of his name: He was born Michael David Rock on Nov. 21, 1948, in London to David and Joan (Gibbs) Rock.

He graduated from Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied modern languages. While a student there, as he put it in the documentary, “photography wandered idly into my life.” He was hanging out in a friend’s room with a companion, and the friend had left a 35-milimeter camera lying about (which turned out to have no film in it, though Mr. Rock didn’t realize that).

“I was with a young lady in a state of — I think chemical inebriation is probably the best way of putting it,” he told The Daily Telegraph of Britain in 2010, “when I started snapping away. I was just playing, but there was something about it that I really liked.”

So he got himself his own camera, with film, and began taking pictures of friends and friends’ friends. One friend, whom he had met early in his time at Cambridge, was Syd Barrett of the band Pink Floyd. Through Mr. Barrett he came to know other musicians, and a few not only asked him to photograph them but also paid him.

“I suddenly realized you could make money from this,” Mr. Rock wrote in “Classic Queen,” his 2007 book about his work with that band. “That was terrific: much better than getting a ‘real’ job.”

He started writing for various publications and illustrating his articles with his own photographs. One musician he came to know was Mr. Bowie, and one particular picture he took, in 1972, was career-making. Onstage at the Oxford Town Hall, Mr. Bowie pantomimed performing fellatio on the guitar of one of his musicians, Mick Ronson, as he played. Mr. Rock’s photograph of the moment turned up in Melody Maker magazine.

“This was that shot that put my name on the map,” Mr. Rock wrote in the Queen book. “Suddenly I was in demand, and my camera was clearly speaking louder than my words.”

Famed shots of Mr. Reed and Iggy Pop came along about the same time.

“I took those when Lou and Iggy were relatively unknown, unless you were really, really hip,” he told The Telegraph, “but somehow those shots seemed to have defined them forever.”

Soon his reputation was such that Queen came calling.

“I didn’t really know their music, but, when they played me their album, I said, ‘Wow! Ziggy Stardust meets Led Zeppelin!’ and that seemed to seal the deal,” he said.

Mr. Rock moved to New York in 1977 and became immersed in the turbulent scene there that included Blondie, the Ramones and other performers.“I needed a new edge, and I found it in New York in spades,” he told The Sunday Herald of Scotland in 1995.

“Over the years Mick Rock has made history with all the musicians and rock stars that he has immortalized,” Ms. Harry wrote in the introduction to Mr. Rock’s book “Debbie Harry and Blondie: Picture This” (2019). “A good photo session is sometimes as good as sex. You leave feeling well massaged, satisfied and a little bit outside yourself.”

Mr. Rock’s marriage to the photographer Sheila Rock ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Pati Rock, whom he married in 1997; a daughter, Nathalie Rock; and five siblings, Carol, Jacqueline, Don, Angela and Laura.

Mr. Rock’s work was featured in various exhibitions. In the Blondie book, he lamented that he’d made such an impact as a rock photographer that it restricted him in some ways.

“Like a hit record to a rock ’n’ roller, the downside is that a great image, besides defining the subject, can limit what others call on the photographer to do,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t mind shooting the occasional politician or actor (or even a gangster or two), but that’s not how art directors or magazines view me.”

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