Portraits of icons

Rosen, Robert, Australian fashion, social and fine art photographer (born 1953). The Rosen archive of autographed polaroids, containing unique vintage portraits of Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Audrey Hepburn and Muhammed Ali, among many others. Each signed below the image by the celebrity portrayed, all signed and dated by the photographer on the reverse.

London, Sydney and other places, 1980-2001.

Together 345 colour polaroids in two large 4to albums. Stored in custom-made half morocco case.


The present collection, predominantly featuring portraits from London in the early 1980s, is an exceptional chronicle of an era and its cultural icons. A photographer for Rolling Stone and other music magazines, Robert Rosen was as much a part of the elite social circles as the celebrities he captured. His journey into vintage portraiture began with Andy Warhol: Rosen recounts meeting Warhol in 1980 at a London party, where he was inspired by Warhol's use of polaroids. This encounter (from which Warhol gave Rosen a lift home) prompted the young photographer to approach Polaroid in London with a proposal to create a collection of signed polaroids of famous personalities. The company equipped him with a camera and unlimited film, leading to a two-decade-long project, preserved here in its entirety. Rosen, today renowned as Australia's pre-eminent social photographer and recently celebrated in an exhibition in Sydney, amassed over 300 celebrity portraits at parties and nightclubs. He had each subject sign their portrait on the spot, using one of the various coloured pens he always carried for that purpose. These portraits stand out for their naturalness and spontaneity, in stark contrast to the rigid poses more typical of society photographs. As a collection they not only capture the glamour and charisma of the social scenes in London, Paris, and Sydney, but also serve as an important record of key figures from diverse fields - actors, rockstars, and other luminaries.

The collection contains the now-famous photo of Paul and Linda McCartney kissing, as well as signed portraits of both, in one of which Linda is holding up the very snapshot of the pair taken by Rosen a minute earlier. In the vibrant setting of Regine's nightclub, Rosen snapped a memorable Polaroid of David Bowie. Amidst garden greenery, Bowie, amused by Rosen's distinct mirror bowtie, remarked, "Robert Rosen with the looking glass bowtie". The developed Polaroid had Rosen's nervous fingerprints on it. Suggesting a retake, Bowie instead declared, "No, I like it, it's art", and signed it. The only unsigned Polaroid in the collection is of Charlie Watts: when asked by Rosen to sign it, Watts declined, explaining that John Lennon had passed away that very day.


Offered by Rosen through a London auction in 2023, where the most valuable polaroids were auctioned off as separate lots. Now reunited and complete with all 345 photographs in the two original collection albums, as assembled by Rosen himself.


345 colour Polaroids, each signed in various inks by the celebrity featured in the images, notable people include: Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman, Cliff Richard, Grace Jones, Donovan, Elton John, Sting, Zandra Rhodes, Mary Quant, Sylvester Stallone, Terence Stamp, Vera Lynn, Marianne Faithful, Pete Townshend, Charlie Watts (unsigned), Shirley Bassey, Audrey Hepburn, Stevie Knicks, Andrew Ridgeley, Rudolf Nureyev, Luciano Pavarotti, BB King, Joan Rivers, Jackie Collins, Ronnie Barker, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Diana Rigg, Tom Selleck, Mel Gibson, Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newton-John, Nicole Kidman, Ru Paul, Cate Blanchett, Yoko Ono, David Essex, Phil Lynott, Phil Collins, The Village People, David Hockney, Andrew Logan, Karl Lagerfeld, Joe Cocker, John Hurt, Edward Bell, Duggie Fields, Patrick Hughes, Naomi Campbell, Ossie Clark, Malcolm McLaren, Celia Birtwell, Grayson Perry, Peter Blake, Thierry Mugler, David Bailey, Martin Sharp, Paloma Picasso, Jean Shrimpton, Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Issey Miyake, Marcel Marceau, Francis Bacon, Dean Martin, Bob Geldof, Michael York, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Joan Collins, Carrie Fisher, Tom Stoppard, Lewis Morley, Anita Ekberg, Bill Gibb, David Attenborough, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Everett, Christopher Reeve, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ronnie Corbett, Diana Dors, Tony Curtis, Joanna Lumley, Geraldine Chaplin, Omar Sharif, Ian McKellen, Michael Caine, Penelope Keith, Muhammad Ali, Les Dawson, Jane Asher, Janet Street-Porter, Bette Midler, Bonnie Tyler, Jerry Hall, Boy George, Quentin Crisp, William Burroughs, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Deborah Kerr, Nina Simone, Leo Sayer, Lulu, David Hemmings, Barry Lategan, Nico, Vanessa Redgrave, among many others, all signed and dated on the reverse by the photographer. Each 9 × 10 cm. Loosely inserted in two albums with together 86 pages. Bound in brown and black percaline albums, Rosen's autograph ownership note with his adress in both. 4to (28.5 × 28 cm). Housed in a light blue morocco-backed solander box with gilt title to spine.


Both albums show traces of restoration to the hinges and spine, but firmly bound. A very few of the autograph signatures on the polaroids and Rosen's dated inscriptions on the reverse a little smudged, the polaroids in fine condition throughout.


Exhibited: Robert Rosen: Glitterati. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 26 August 2021 - 25 April 2022.

Cat. no.: 40 Catalogue: 38th Antiquaria Ludwigsburg