Those with any familiarity of the original glam-rock scene that emerged in the early 1970s in London will recognize the iconic images hanging on the walls of Balans on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Karl Stoecker shot pinups of brilliantly painted models and contributed album art for Roxy Music and Lou Reed during the glitter era's peak year of 1972. The vibrant images oozed sexuality, flirted with androgyny, and helped define a brief but still influential era in popular British music.
Stoecker's contemporaries included Mick Rock and Brian Duffy. He often worked with makeup artist Pierre La Roche, who applied the famous lightning bolt on David Bowie's face for the cover of his 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. Stoecker himself hung out with Bowie and other musicians from that scene in the early '70s. He remains in touch with Roxy frontman Bryan Ferry, who still sends him CDs of his latest work.
Nowadays, Stoecker lives in South Beach in a small house hidden behind a lush garden planted by his wife of 27 years. They've lived at the house, situated walking distance from the shore, for two decades. It's where they raised two daughters. They share the house with five cats, a giant Rhodesian ridgeback, and — Stoecker is keen to point out — two opossums.
"They're quite nice creatures," he says between puffs of a hand-rolled cigarette. "Sometimes, when they get in the house, it's hard to get them out. But once you corner them, they really do roll over and play dead."
His wife, Patti Stoecker, a former fashion model and 20 years his junior, points out that he doesn't promote his work much but that many orders have come because of the indefinite exhibit of his photos at Balans.
"It's OK," the photographer says. "Sometimes people call from there," he says of the Balans display. "It's nice not to have to star them," he adds with a laugh.
He has always done his work for nothing more than the love of it. He was shooting neo-pinups of the 1940s mixed with then-contemporary flourishes of heavy makeup that occasionally appeared in fashion magazines. Ferry took note of his work and asked him to provide images for his band's first album, a deal that continued until the Roxy's third album, Stranded, released in 1973.
In between, Stoecker famously shot the back cover of Reed's 1972, Bowie-produced glam-rock album, Transformer. Rock provided the album's famous eerie, androgynous cover, but the back featured the dueling images of a man and woman. Stoecker's wife recalls its startling quality:
"The whole thing with he was a she," she says, referring to the lyrics of Take A Walk On the Wild Side. "I had this album the day it came out, when I was a kid. I would even think, was this the same person?" she says of the back cover, featuring the model Gala and Reed's roadie and friend Ernie Thormahlen, wearing a plastic banana in his jeans.
"You know, when you're a kid and you stared at a record cover for ten hours," Patti continues, "you thought, was that the message? Is that him as a girl?"
Stoecker would later learn he was underpaid for his album art.
"Someone came over, he was with [the band] Bad Company, and we were talking about album covers in those days, and he was saying, 'Oh, yeah, we paid them 10,000 pounds for somebody to do an album cover.' I was being paid 250 pounds, you know what I mean?" he says and breaks into laughter. "Which is like 500 bucks or something."
Though he still does photography, including both art and catalogs, his work gained a bit more cachet when it made into the Tate Museum as part of an exhibit chronicling the original UK glam scene called "Glam! The Performance of Style." It was thanks to Patti and a fateful meeting.
"He is the worst at being a businessperson, calling people back, arranging situations," she says, "but all you have to do is go out a little bit, and something like the Tate Museum happens."
A client of Patti's who works as a designer and owns the vintage store Posh Vintage, introduced her to Chrissie Iles, curator of the Whitney Museum in New York. She happened to have a catalog of her husband's work and worked up the courage to ask her opinion.
"I just took it out of my pocketbook. I was so nervous to just show her my husband's stuff, and a month later, the guy called us from London."
Had it not been for that meeting, his famous shots of a feather-clad Brian Eno would have been omitted from the 2013 exhibit. Not only is it an often-requested print, but it also became the cover image for the exhibit's brochure when it moved to the Kunst Museum in Austria.
Of all the guys in Roxy Music, Karl Stoecker remembers getting on particularly well with Eno, who was often celebrated as the most eccentric member of the band before he left after only a year for a solo career that would spawn the likes of ambient music.
"Brian was really into music," he says. "He did that stuff with the trumpet player in New York [Jon Hassell]. He's done a lot of nice stuff with John Cale. He lived on Portobello Road, somewhere in Notting Hill, and so you'd go over there and he'd be doing interesting stuff. Like, they recorded a brass band playing badly. It was either a badly playing brass band or a brass band that was playing badly on purpose, and he'd be like, 'Yeah!' And I didn't get," he laughs. "I don't like brass bands anyway, but he was into sound, which was really, really nice."
Stoecker continues to be a big fan of contemporary music, and of course he gravitates to the ladies. He loves Beach House and Lana Del Rey and even thinks Miley Cyrus is great.
"I like Miley," he says. "She's cheeky. It's great. It's like I used to like Madonna when she first started, and then not interested anymore."
Stoecker shrugs off any allusion to sexism in his often-provocative works (one features a favorite model, Kari Ann, her body painted from head to crotch in a think red stripe resembling a penis, under a sheer body suit). If anyone is offended, he says, "I figure, well, that's what they're thinking, whatever, and a lot of times people can say whatever. What's in your own mind could be totally different from what someone else thinks the image portrays."
Sure, working with the stars and getting a little more work and recognition would be great for Stoecker, but his aspirations remain modest.
"I think now I only want to be a beachcomber," he says. "I mean, taking photographs is fine, but that's what I want to be for my prime occupation if I can figure it out."
Stoecker's work will hang on Balans' walls indefinitely at 1022 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. For more about Karl Stoecker, visit karlstoeckerphotos.com.