On November 5th, 2018 , YRB attended the Morrison Hotel Gallery opening of Killer Queen, in New York City. The exhibition featured never before seen images of the band captured by legendary rock photographers Neal Preston, Mick Rock, Richard E. Aaron, Lynn Goldsmith, Patrick Harbron, Steve Joester, and Paul McAlpine who all worked with one of the world’s most iconic bands throughout their meteoric career.
The next day we got the opportunity to talk to Mick Rock about the exhibit, photography and rock and roll.
YRB: Did you get a chance to listen to the Queen 2 album prior to the photo shoot?
Mick Rock: Oh Yeah, I had a meeting with them and they played the album for me. They made sure they got a nice positive response from me, which they did!
YRB: Is it true the photo is inspired by the 1932 film, Shanghai Express starring Marlene Dietrich?
Mick Rock: The lighting is more hooded, more rock and roll. You can actually see the whites in Marlene Dietrich eyes in the original.
YRB: Out of everyone that you shot, what is your favorite photo?
Mick Rock: Oh boy! Be like wife and girlfriends! (laughter) Depends on the day of the week and the week of the year , I love them all! I ‘m not going to pick any favorites.
YRB: What artist would you have liked to have photographed, given the chance?
Mick Rock: A guy I got to know , Alfred Wertheimer, he passed away a few years ago.
He did a lot of those early Elvis photos before the Colonel. Elvis looked so extraordinary. He was such a beautiful man He wasn’t very old in those pictures,like 19 or 20.
Or maybe Bob Dillian in 65, in his amphetamines period, (laughter) with the wild bushy hair , the tight trousers , the scarves and shades. He was looking like a rock and roll poet!
Keith Richards, during the time of the Altamont Free Concert.
They way Keith Richards looked then around ’69, the image was as pure rock and roll as it got. I had barely pickup up a camera and I hadn’t even been to America at the time of that concert.
YRB: Are there any new rock and roll or pop artists that you are interested in working with today?
Mick Rock: The Struts seem pretty cool to me. The lead singer has a good voice. They are probably be perfect for me.
I just photographed Lana Del Rey. She got a serious talent.
YRB: What do you use to shoot these days? Are you doing film or digital?
Mick Rock: Digital. It’s too convenient.
Film is like work. You have to take the picture, make sure you didn’t overexpose the film, process it, make prints, send them somewhere and a bit down the road you might see them in print. Plainly we live in a very different world.
I’m happy that people get really excited about all of my images.
I’ve shot a lot of things in recent years, but there is something about the 70s and early 80s , that the galleries and museums get excited about. That was all shot on film.
So there is a true master. The thing with digital there is no tangible true master.
YRB: In the recent exhibit, Killer Queen at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, do you think you could capture these images if it were digital, or does it lend to the time period and place to dictate the look and feel?
Mick Rock: I did something for Nico recently, and I came pretty close to producing an image with the same lighting. The Queen 2 album shoot, I have a lot of variations of that. I shot a lot of film that day. Thats one of those one’s that wont go away, like Lou Reed‘s Transformer, or Joan Jett‘s I Love Rock n Roll. I like to shoot and I like the immediacy of digital. I’m not some fussy old queen about what to shoot with.
YRB: So your’e not a purist, but would you ever shoot something with a mobile phone vs a high end digital camera? Does it matter?
Mick Rock: In one sense. No. I don’t walk around with a camera with me. I do what everybody else does, I walk around with an Iphone.
If I’m doing a session, I’m going to use a digital camera for sure, I use a Canon.
I did a shoot for Gucci earlier this year. When I first started talking to them, they wanted to shoot on film. I’m said no, let’s shoot this digital. I showed them that you can make digital look like film.
During the shoot in Rome, they imported a guy who won an award for making digital images look like film.
You got to understand, I’m a creature of the music business. I was formed by the music business not the photography business. That wasn’t what would have excited me when I was a kid, it was the LSD and Rock’ n Roll!
I picked up a camera on an acid trip, that how it all started.
YRB: What’s next for you?
Mick Rock: More exhibits all over the place, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, China, Helsinki and a few more projects in 2019.
YRB: What do you want people to get out this exhibit?
Mick Rock: You can’t really tell other people what to like. People are curious and I’m just feeding it. Rock’ n Roll was big, especially for my generation.
When I first started out, the pictures I took had very limited value, today the value is huge.
The bad thing back in the days, you didn’t get paid much money, because the record companies were cheap and didn’t pay much. The good thing was they weren’t interested in owning them.
I control the copyright for all of these images. As it turns out the photos became valuable over time, it wasn’t anything that I did.
It’s a mixed bag today. There is no latest really. it used to be the latest single, the latest act.
I remember when David Bowie first showed up. It’s a different world today, I’m in the business of taking pictures, I love that process.
It’s not complicated for me. I can’t tell people what to get out of the pictures. I can only “riff” based on my recollections.
In the early days of my friendship with Freddie, he said to me,
‘The most important thing is to have a fabulous life. As long as it’s fabulous I don’t care how long it is!’
His is generally regarded as the greatest voice to be spawned by rock n roll. He could – and did – sing in a myriad of styles. He was also a superb songwriter. I’m happy to have been the progenitor of his most durable imagery, including the Queen II album cover, which was adapted for Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video.
May God Bless Freddie Mercury!