Stranded (1973), featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry.
She’s a model and she’s looking good
Karl Stoecker photographed the first three Roxy Music album covers then disappeared, seeking a quieter life in South Beach, Florida. “I mean, taking photographs is fine,” Stoecker told the Miami Times, “I think now I only want to be a beachcomber. That’s what I want to be for my prime occupation if I can figure it out.” Unwilling to engage in the game of rock photography as played by his contemporaries Mick Rock (Lou Reed, Bowie, Queen) and Brian Duffy (Swinging Sixties, Bowie), the handsome beach-boy Stoecker preferred to shun the limelight. “He is the worst at being a businessperson, calling people back, arranging situations,” says his wife, fashion designer Patti Stoecker. You get a sense Patti is smiling when she says this, both she and Karl working off the grid, carefree outsiders, enjoying a life they created for themselves and their children away from London into open waters and light blue surf.
Of course, each member of the Roxy machine team (Antony Price, Karl Stoecker, Nick De Ville, Simon Puxley and Bryan Ferry) were non-conformists, outsiders who rebelled against norms of acceptance, sexuality and artistic expression. And indeed this is the hub of Bryan Ferry’s genius and achievement with Roxy Music: while band politics and arguments produced wounds that would never fully heal (Eno’s departure; the loss of earnings from shared song-writing credits; the desire to record solo albums), Ferry focused on his vision, very carefully and strategically injecting himself into the underground art and fashion world, making close friendships with many of London’s most innovative artists, creating and expanding the Roxy Music brand through art, design, fashion, photography, and image-making. While the musical muscle of Roxy Music was dependent on MacKay, Manzanera and Thompson, there is little evidence to suggest that anyone other than Ferry and the Roxy machine were accountable for the stunning design and brand marketing that enabled Roxy to achieve its goal of being “cinematic” music for the masses.
Antony Price was the key image-maker and stylistic guru of Roxy Music, a man of great intellect and kindness (Ferry: “He is one of the most remarkably gifted people I have ever met, and an authority on a bewildering range of subjects”). Price is extremely important to the Roxy Music story and we covered his influence in some depth for our entries Beauty Queen: Cover Art, a look at the ground-breaking art work Price did for For Your Pleasure. It is also worth reading the in-depth review of the fashion and art-school influences that helped define and shape Roxy Music, Michael Bracewell‘s excellent Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music, and also the well-compiled primer on the stylistic trends that defined early 70s music and fashion, Glam: The Performance of Style. With Price’s influence and these other inputs being well-documented, we move then, for this entry, to another member of the Roxy machine: American photographer Karl Stoecker.
Karl Stoecker // early 70s
I. Locating the Past
Karl Stoecker knew and worked with Antony Price as a member of the ‘Notting Hill crowd’ of artists and designers that shared similar ideas and assignments as they worked together in the London arts world of the early 1970s. Influential swinging sixties Notting Hill painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer David Hockey: “You didn’t let commercial side interfere with things, in film, music, painting, fashion. It was energy driven by the bohemian world.” These were talented, young people, well-paid and in demand, highly educated (Royal College of Art), plugged in (Richard Hamilton, Malcolm Bird, Ossie Clark), and endlessly inventive: “We didn’t want to be couturiers…We were about the street. Anything Establishment had to be challenged” (Price). Interestingly, and tellingly if we consider the angle from which Roxy Music‘s Stranded was written, recorded and performed, it was the past that was plundered as a means of re-writing the present. The was a strong interest in the retro glamour of Art Deco, and also of early American Hollywood cinema, films Footlight Parade (1933), I’m No Angel with Mae West, “images shimmering with a brittle brilliance” (Style).
Antony Price met Roxy Music models Kari-Ann Mueller (Roxy Music) and Amanda Lear (For Your Pleasure), and future Roxy machine photographer Karl Stoecker through the Notting Hill connection. While working with the materials of the past – Price particularly liked Max Reindhardt’s Midsummer’s Night Dream – a look that would influence directly Bryan Ferry’s ‘Virginia Plain’ outfit on Top of the Pops – the young artists acknowledged the influence and stylizations of old style Hollywood glamour, while re-making and re-modelling the present in order to create the look of the future.
The whole glamour thing of the 1930s was what influenced us
For his part, Stoecker moved to London in 1966 and stayed there until 1975 before returning to the United States. His keen eye and obvious love for women and glamour earned him commissions with many of premier fashion magazines of the day. His photographs for British Vogue captures the early style, unambitious yet focused, free of movement, selling product and make-up tips, as seen below in this Hair Now article (Vogue, 1972).
The dynamic in this shot is expressed mostly in the lighting, but captured in those eyes is the same hint of danger that would attract Stoecker to a more off-beat territory: using the essential ingredients of Hollywood glamour, Stoecker moved towards highlighting glamorous women in new and ultra-modern glamour poses, cheeky imagery with a hint of beneath-the-surface kink, a sure-fire win for Bryan Ferry‘s concept of Roxy Music as a slightly down-stream “sleazy” art project. The movement from the magazine shots of the late 60s with its still-frame emphasis on hair and make-up soon shifts to a gaze that interrogates and emphasizes the pin-up moment, as in the following sequence that establishes Stoecker’s move in 1972 from magazine glam (Club International) to fashion glam (Bubbles):
Here we see the development of Stoecker’s style as he moves toward the Roxy Music album cover assignment. The new ingredient Stoecker insists on is providing a white-drop background for the subject to disappear into, removing any superfluous information that would shift focus away from the glamorous foreground – the clothing, the model, the pose. In that same year, 1972, Bryan designer Antony Price introduced Bryan Ferry to the in-crowd:
I was a rising star behind Ossie [Clark], so I had met all of his models…Some of them – like Kari-Ann and Amanda Lear – ended up on the Roxy Music album sleeves. I was also working with the photographer who shot those covers too – Karl Stoecker. And Bryan would have met all of these people through me.
The outcome of this meeting was the photo session that created the iconic photo for the cover of the first Roxy album, Roxy Music, a sleeve commissioned, designed, and photographed before the band even had a recording contract. Note the influence of Stoecker’s style on the composition of the shot: white background, wildly separated colour, pin-up girl caught in a swirl of glamorous self-consciousness…II. Locating the Future
Stoecker took the band photographs on the inside cover of Roxy Music also, and for several years took most of the Roxy group photographs, including the brilliant peacock feathered suit shot of Brian Eno (below), caught in cock-rock pose, taken at the same photo session that produced the For Your Pleasure inner sleeve essay of the band. Again, Stoecker centers the subject by creating a white-backdrop that is seductive and original, emphasizing the fiction of the rock pose, teasing out the collapse of gender distinctions as the heavily made-up, wonderfully androgynous Eno offers sex as guitar and welcomes us to take part in the Roxy Music dance.
Karl was from Brooklyn, New York and went to art school at Syracuse University, where he co-founded a literary/art zine with Lou Reed. With the Lou Reed connection – and Antony Price’s innovative street-wise stylizations – Stoecker shot the brilliant back cover for Reed’s Bowie produced Transformer, now presenting his subjects against a night-time black curtain, a stylistically riskier mise-en-scene that, if you were not careful, tended to hide the subject instead of emphasizing it.
Musically and visually, the classic Transformer album was produced by a talented collective of early 70s bright lights: Mick Rock took the iconic front cover shot of Lou Reed (hauntingly recreated for Lou’s 1982’s The Blue Mask); and for the back cover, Antony Price dressed and designed model Gayla Mitchell and roadie Ernie Thormahlen (he complete with plastic banana in his jeans). Karl Stoecker composed the scene and took the photos. Karl’s wife Patti recalls the album’s quality and considered the import of her husband’s contribution to the startling images:
The whole thing with he was a she…I had this album the day it came out, when I was a kid. I would even think, was this the same person? You know, when you’re a kid and you stared at a record cover for ten hours, you thought, was that the message? Is that him as a girl?
The move from hair and make-up shots to a new kind of pin-up glamour sexuality that oozed of artifice and decadence ensured that both the covers of Transformer and Roxy Music would spark notoriety and much discussion of whether “he was a she” or “she was a he” (some people thought the first Roxy cover was Bryan Ferry in drag!) which suited perfectly Reed and Ferry’s idea of a new kind of street life, one of ambiguity and unsettled intent: mix it up, make it new, keep ’em guessing (Price: “Everyone thought [Gayla Mitchell] was a drag queen… I was working that hot-biker look way before everyone else got it!”). And so it was the same black night back-drop that defined the second Roxy Music cover For Your Pleasure as Stoecker, De Ville, Price and Ferry experimented with a more dangerous confection: the pin-up femme fatale, tripping on her heels towards us, ready to entrance and ensnare, death held back on a leash, for the moment, at least.
III. Locating the Present
The headline in the local Miami Times is not very flattering – ‘Photographer for Roxy Music and Lou Reed Found Living in Semi-Obscurity in South Beach’. But looking at the pictures on Patti Stoecker’s instagram page tells a very different story. ‘Man Returns Home. Lives in Tropical Paradise. Never Looks Back.’
When the Roxy machine geared up for Stranded, the new assignment presented a challenge for Stoecker, one that he did not necessarily take a liking to – a bleeding away of the subject into the background, a movement away from the pin-up glamour image towards narrative and cinematic story-telling: plane crash, jungle, film noir in red monochrome. ‘You may be stranded if you stick around’ sings Ferry on the new album opener, and you have to wonder if Stoecker, while making his way across the sweaty jungle carpet to take his final Roxy album cover shot, was thinking much the same thing..
Next: Stoecker photographs Bryan Ferry as Marilyn Cole in “Just Like You: ‘Stranded’ Cover Art – Part 2″ August 2020.
Credits: Nearly every photo in this piece is shot by Karl Stoecker. See http://www.karlstoeckerphotos.com.
Stranded (1973) original cover photograph, featuring Marilyn Cole, photography by Karl Stoecker, fashion by Antony Price, cover design by Nick de Ville, cover concept Bryan Ferry; Roxy machine group shot (clock-wise, Ferry, Stoecker, Puxley, Price, De Ville); Karl Stoecker, early 70s; Mae West and uncredited; Stoecker Vogue; Stoecker evolution (credited inline); Roxy Music cover; Eno by Stoecker; Transformer/For Your Pleasure Stoecker mash-up.