I first met Mick Ronson’s when I was photographing Mott The Hoople at a Chelsea studio in London in 1974. Although I was photographing the whole band I was struck by Mick’s classical Byronesque looks so I asked him if he would mind if I took some solo portraits after we finished the band shoot. He just said “fine” in his very reserved way and the result was the above portrait. Looking back at the portrait now it has such a moment about it and without any doubt it is one of my images that really stays with me. Despite being one of the most talented arrangers and guitarists of his generation working with the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie (and he went onto work with Dylan, Van Morrison and Elton John), he was so self effacing and really humble. He had the most incredible natural elegance and there was a kind of roaring silence about him.
I don’t know how it came about but a few years later, as far as I can recall, Mick’s beautiful wife Suzi Ronson (who was also David Bowie’s hairdresser) asked me would I photograph Mick for the cover of his second solo album Play Don’t Worry. I think the Byronesque portrait I’d done previously was the reason they asked me to do this album shoot. When they were in the studio, Suzi was so supportive and attentive to Mick’s every need. She did his hair and make up and tied black ribbon around his arms. Mick posed with his guitar and the record label chose the above photo for the album cover. For me the picture below was much more dynamic and I prefer this image from that session.
It was a really nice day and after the studio session I said, “Why don’t we shoot some 35mm shots, down by the Serpentine”. My assistants arranged a location van that took us all down to the Serpentine. We had drinks by the side of the Serpentine Lake and talked about the music scene while looking at the polaroids from the studio session , some of which I used a blue polarising filter on.
Before we hired a boat I took some pictures of Mick in front of the Serpentine Lake as the sun was setting behind him which caused this gold halation surrounding his wiry willow like figure. Although he never tried he was so natural in front of the camera. The above picture has something of James Dean feel about it. He really was so striking.
It reminds me of Marlon Brando’s remark from On The Waterfront, when a character says “Are you looking for trouble” and Brando replies “What have you got?”. Mick looked like a streetwise New Yorker, who was ahead of the game. He certainly didn’t look like a quiet working class lad from Hull (in the North of England).
I asked Mick if he’d mind getting in the boat and he was keen to do so. He rowed around the lake really quickly and I shouted from the shore, “No, Mick, just let the boat glide back into me, this was the moment when I got the above shot. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice that my converse all stars where soaking wet.
I was saddened that someone who I know would have achieved so much more in the future was taken from us so early in his life and career. I really rated his talent and the way he was.
- Clive Arrowsmith is shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available here and Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here