A picture is worth a thousand words, so it goes, and in this new series, a member or friend of A+R will spill a few hundred or so on a cherished art photograph and why it so transcends the moment captured in film. First up, A+R cofounder Rose Apodaca on Mick Rock’s iconic “David Bowie and Mick Ronson, Train to Aberdeen, Scotland 1973.”
It’s been 4 years since Bowie died on January 10, and just 2 days after what would have been his 70th birthday. His death hit me hard, as it did so many fans worldwide, because it was so sudden and so unexpected. Soon enough it would be revealed he had been privately battling liver cancer in the preceding 18 months. My family was game to pay tribute with our Valentine’s card that year, which we were shooting with photographer Ramona Rosales just days following Bowie’s passing.
Like so many fans, too, I took solace in the vast and genius catalog of music and images, including “Aberdeen,” of which we have a 16x20 print on our living room wall. I got it directly from photographer Mick Rock, whom I met years before his own legendary status would become the stuff of long-overdue exhibitions around the world and a documentary (the 2016 “Shot! Thee Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock,” a must-see for any photography and rock enthusiast, of which I am both).
The photo happens to be among Mick’s best sellers. But that didn’t dissuade me from wanting it. Bowie and Ronson are dressed to the hilt in tailored jackets by Freddie Burretti, on the train through the English countryside, knives and forks in hand as they go at their unremarkable, quintessential Brit meal of boiled potatoes, peas and chops. Even the butter patties and bread rolls add to the paradox of the mundane and the mythic status in pop culture these 2 already had a hold on by this time. Aberdeen was the first stop on the final tour of the Ziggy Stardust concert, one which had already fixed Bowie and Ronson in history. And there will still be many incarnations and albums to come from each of them.
The image was “lost in the archive,” according to Mick Rock, until he started putting together his 2002 photo book, “Moonage Daydream.” That archive, by the way, includes not only countless outtakes in black and white, but also color, showing Bowie’s mullet in all its strawberry brightness. But it’s this one that embeds itself in the collective memory of iconic status. It’s this one that makes me smile.
Mick believes it’s not just the contrasts at play in his photograph that so appeals to onlookers, but the “conspiratorial way” Bowie and Ronson are looking at one another. They knew they were on top of the rock heap, with every bite.
That meal is part of the reason Andy and I acquired “Aberdeen” for one of our early wedding anniversaries. We set out to collect photography thematically tied to our favorite pastime: feasting, be it food or drink. It isn’t the only one of Mick’s photographs in our collection, all 3 of which feature Bowie (Andy’s cut me off from any more Bowie photos, at least for now!). There’s “Praying on Knees, 1972” in the bedroom, and another of Bowie in Burretti, “Blue Suit, circa 1973” in my home office. But, like a good meal, it’s the one we share collectively as a family and with visitors that I love most.
And it serves as a reminder: no matter the trip or what’s on the plate, for godsakes, always make it a glam moment.