Photographer Mick Rock: 'People call me the man who shot the '70s.'

Story highlights

  • Mick Rock has photographed the likes of David Bowie, Pink Floyld and Lady Gaga
  • He was also personal friends with Bowie and Pink Floyd singer Syd Barrett

This feature is part of Pixel, a new series that turns the lens on some of the most inspiring photographers from around the world. See more here.

(CNN)"People call me the man who shot the '70s."

Mick Rock isn't so sure of that label. It ignores his more recent work, whether that be with Pharrell or The Black Keys. It's been a long journey for the veteran music photographer, one that started with a trip in England in the mid '60s.
    "I was studying modern languages and literature at Cambridge University in England in the late '60s, and I took an acid trip," Rock recalls. "For the first time in my life, I could really see -- I mean, because stuff back then was really strong."
    The acid use didn't continue (he hasn't touched it since 1972), but photography was the next best thing.
    "There was something about the clicking of the shutter and the kind of explosion that happened while I was on an acid trip. I liked the feeling of it. It gave me a kind of release."

    Famous friends

    The photographer has shot everyone from Queen and Blondie to Iggy and the Stooges, but it's his friendships with the late Syd Barrett and David Bowie that have garnered the most attention.

    @davidbowie in Santa Monica, CA -- 1972 #tbt

    A photo posted by Mick Rock (@therealmickrock) on

    Rock was around for the initial success of Barrett's band Pink Floyd, as well as his friend's decision to leave the group and shun the limelight. A deft writer as well an accomplished photographer, it was Rock who conducted Barrett's last interview in 1971 for Rolling Stone, decades before the rock star's death in 2006.
    "The irony is, all these years later, for his very modest output, he is revered by so many young bands as well," Rock reflects. "His cult is huge. I mean, that's what he is."
    One of Barrett's following, a man who was "right on to me to get his free copy" of Rock's book on the Floyd founder, was David Bowie. Rock was Bowie's official photographer from 1972 to 1973, and the shape-shifting performer signed nearly 2,000 of his intimate shots for a book that became a posthumous tribute when Bowie died in January 2016.

    Digital renewal

    Rock's work from that era is finding a second life thanks in part to the "fuckin' internet."
    "Back then (photography) was not such a big deal," he says. "There were so few outlets. I mean, what did you do? ...I would take all these pictures, and a couple would get seen. There (were) a couple of publicity pictures, a few album covers. And then they were shunted aside because everything was moving so fast."
    Now past, present and future come together in the digital wormhole of online content. It's a boon for Rock, but that's not going to stop him seeking out new artists to shoot. He still needs his fix.
    "I need the therapy of taking photographs," he admits, "and I don't mean just snapping, which I do a decent amount. I mean a session -- something I can bite on, as it were."