Was Dennis Hopper a Better Photographer Than Actor?
As an expansive new show of the Easy Rider star's photographs opens in L.A., AD speaks with his daughter and shares compelling portraits of his famous pals
TEXT BY JANELLE ZARA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DENNIS HOPPER
Dennis Hopper’s The Lost Album, a collection of the late actor’s poignant black-and-white photography on view now at L.A.’s Kohn Gallery through September 1, was made possible by two key actors: his Rebel Without a Causecostar James Dean, who encouraged him to try his hand behind the camera (albeit as a director), and his first wife, Brooke Hayward, who bought him a Nikon mirror flex in 1961.
And as the story goes, Hopper put his camera down so rarely that his friends renamed him “the tourist.” From 1961 to 1967, an explosive period of both American creativity and political turbulence, he started photographing everything around him: Hollywood, the art world, and the activist movement. There are portraits of Warhol (whose early soup can painting he had purchased for a mere $75), Rauschenberg and Ruscha, of a young Paul Newman and of several young protesters marching from Montgomery to Selma. Captured with a startling honesty, the thousands of photographs are documentation of legends in an unaltered state, naturally lit, unposed, and uncropped.
“In a movie you can’t crop images,” explains his and Hayward’s daughter Marin Hopper, “and so you practice telling the story through the camera.”
His years behind the lens led up to his better-known career as a director. When Hopper showed these photographs in 1970 in the Fort Worth Art Center Museum, mounted in a style reminiscent of a storyboard, he had already put photography aside in 1967 in preparation for directing Easy Rider. His acclaimed 1969 directorial debut was a film about a search for America, a subject he knew quite intimately.