TIME In Memoriam

David Bowie: Photographers Remember a ‘Rock God’

"It was impossible to know David Bowie and not to be his friend."

David Bowie, the legendary British musician and a figurehead of pop’s avant-garde, died on Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 69.

Over his five-decade career, he was photographed by some of the best-known photographers; each image often lending credence to the indisputable reputation he had as a shape-shifter musical pioneer.

As the world remembers the artist, TIME LightBox asked photographers to share their best memories of working with Bowie.

Steve Schapiro, photojournalist, U.S.

David Bowie has taken off from Earth in Major Tom’s Starship leaving us with feelings of a great, great loss. Of the creative people I have worked with he stands out with his chameleon-like ability to create vocal and visual characters that play with our minds. His intelligence and talent were continually amazing and his orbit will circle the earth forever.

First photographing David Bowie four decade ago, he would appear in amazing outfits and just as I raised my camera, he would say “wait just a minute I have to fix something.” Twenty minutes later he would come back in something totally different and I had never photographed the first one. Fortunately there were many choices and the last photo I took was at 4 in the morning using the headlights of my car to shoot David on his bike.

Terry O’Neill, fashion and portrait photographer, U.K.

I think it’s the biggest loss since John Lennon. It came as such a surprise to everybody. His loss is going to be felt for a long, long time. In his way, he was as great as Frank Sinatra. There’s not going to be anybody else like him.

He was great to work with. I always enjoyed it. When I did that shot with the dog, I was shooting for Guy Peellaert, the cover artist of his album Diamond Dogs. When I finished, I decided to take some pictures with David and the dog, and the dog leapt up and it became one of the most famous photos in rock ‘n’roll ever since. It’s incredible.

It was impossible to know David Bowie and not to be his friend. He was a very classy man. He was always a worthwhile person. He was always ahead of his time.

Anton Corbijn, photographer and filmmaker, The Netherlands

I flew to Chicago to photograph David Bowie in his role of the Elephant Man, the play that he was starring in. After many years of wild imagery, I felt this was one of the first times he seemed to be at ease being himself as this photo feels very intimate to me.

Mark Seliger, fashion and portrait photographer, U.S.

I had a wonderful experience working with David Bowie for the MTV Movie Awards Campaign and got to shoot a roll of film of him in my stairwell. He was gentle yet intense at the same time – always willing to collaborate and then elevate the idea to the highest level.

Ron Galella, pioneer paparazzo, U.S.

Shooting in the seventies was easy, especially the Grammys. Even without calling beforehand to get on the press list, the media was welcomed, unlike today. After getting great backstage pictures, I crashed the after-party at Essex House in New York City. I created this iconic photo by simply asking John Lennon to pose with David Bowie, who was sitting at a different table. Its composition makes it one of my favorite photos – Bowie being the focal point, looking toward me, while Lennon is in profile, making Bowie ever more important. I sell to art collectors worldwide, and this has become one of my most collectible photos.

Bob Gruen, rock ‘n’ roll photographer, U.S.

David Bowie was a very expressive performer aided by his study of mime. Every singer has to deal with holding a microphone, but I never forgot how casually David put his mic in his elbow so as he leaned back with his hands behind his head the mic was still next to his lips. \nTo the world Bowie may have seemed like a ‘space oddity’ but whenever we met he was always a very classy English gentleman. David Bowie was a very expressive performer aided by his study of mime. Every singer has to deal with holding a microphone, but I never forgot how casually David put his mic in his elbow so as he leaned back with his hands behind his head the mic was still next to his lips. To the world Bowie may have seemed like a “space oddity” but whenever we met he was always a very classy English gentleman.

Ron Pownall, music photographer, U.S.

I first shot Bowie on Valentines Day, 1973, at Radio City Music Hall, on the opening date of the Ziggy Tour. The thing that struck me was his laser-beam eyes, his incredible intensity connecting with the audience. This shot was taken Nov 15, 1974 at the Boston Music Hall during the 2nd leg of the Diamond Dogs Tour. I finally captured some of that laser-beam intensity, sweaty, but composed, always under control, the audience was HIS!

Brooks Kraft, portrait photographer and photojournalist, U.S.

As a teenager in 1983, one of my earliest photographic interests was concert photography. I came up with a routine for sneaking my camera into venues like Madison Square Garden and photographing entire concerts. For me Bowie was a mystery. His music and style was complex, yet he was able to communicate to, even mesmerize, a mass audience. He brought new and different art forms to rock ‘n’ roll to create entertainment. He was an inspiring and innovative artist not afraid to push the boundaries of music and popular culture on a global scale across so many cultures, long before the internet was there to facilitate. I like this photo because he looks both approachable and mysterious, and very comfortable in his element.

Gene Shaw, music photographer, U.S.

This photograph of David was taken downtown at the Armory in New York City. He was enjoying a night on the town with Iman [his second wife]. He loved the camera and the camera loved him. He was a star. He was all aglow, in between conversations and cigarettes. He always knew how to light up a room with his presence.

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