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From Jagger to Gaga: Music icons through the lens of Mick Rock

By Susannah Palk for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mick Rock got his first big break photographing an unknown David Bowie in 1972
  • He has shot the likes of Debbie Harry, Queen, Iggy Pop, The Stones, and Madonna
  • A retrospective of his work is on display at London's Idea Generation Gallery

London, England (CNN) -- He's responsible for some of rock 'n' roll's most enduring images -- from Queen's famous album cover to the iconic pictures of David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust tour.

But photographer Mick Rock -- often referred to as "the man who shot the 70s" -- not only captured the world of rock 'n' roll, he lived it.

"There was high experimentation -- 'high' being one of the important words and 'experimentation,' the other," Rock told CNN.

"We were young people doing things our parents were completely freaked out by. But you've got to remember they were part of my times. It wasn't like it was just me."

Far from his mother's ambitions of him becoming a university lecturer, Cambridge University-educated Rock fell into the glamorous and often riotous world of the 1970s rock scene -- partying with the likes of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Jagger.

Now a retrospective of his work has opened in London, coinciding with a newly published book "Exposed: The Faces of Rock n' Roll."

Back in the day rock 'n' roll was still an outsider game. You could still be a rebel. It's very hard to be a rebel today.
--Mick Rock.
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The exhibition reads like a who's who of the rock world, Debbie Harry, the Sex Pistols, Joan Jett and Lady Gaga all gracing the walls.

But it's the candid "behind the scenes" images which have remained the most enduring, including the famous 1973 image of David Bowie and Mick Ronson eating lunch in a British Rail dining car.

"Those two f***ing queens," laughed Rock. "Dressed to the nines and having a British Rail lunch."

"What they're eating is so mundane and they look so exotic. It's one of my biggest selling photos."

These early images of Bowie were to cement Rock's career. But it was the pictures of Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett which Rock says were his break into the music world.

"You've got to remember they weren't all famous when I photographed them," he told CNN.

"Syd was known for sure, but there were only 400 people at the gig when I first saw Bowie play. He and Lou were totally subterranean. Queen had released an album but were not known."

Forty years on and Rock continues to snap the stars before they're discovered, including one Stefani Germanotta, better know today as Lady Gaga.

"She told me she was going to be a big deal too. Though no-one knew who the hell she was," Rock told CNN.

"I remember her saying 'I'll do anything you want,' and I thought she's got the right attitude for success. So, she was game, I liked her."

But says Rock, the scene is a lot different to what it used to be.

"Back in the day rock 'n' roll was still an outsider game. You could still be a rebel. It's very hard to be a rebel today."

"I mean today the wild ones are really the rappers aren't they. They're the ones with the bling reputation, with all the girls. Very naughty!"