Dennis Hopper (1936-2010), actor, film director and artist is best known for his roles in films such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Giant (1956), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Blue Velvet (1986). He wrote, directed and starred in the cult film Easy Rider (1969), which for many came to symbolise the free spirit counterculture of the era. He was also a serious artist and photographer. Now The RA has brought his work to London. The Lost Album is an exhibition of over 400 vintage prints that were found after his death in 2010. Hopper focused on his passion for photography intensively between 1961 and 1967 and the photographs on display were found tucked away in boxes at his home. They were originally selected by Hopper himself for his first photography exhibition in Fort Worth Art Centre in 1969.
The photographs have a spontaneous, intense quality about them and capture the atmosphere of the era. They feel so up close and personal that it is like looking at someone’s personal photo album except it is full of historic events, famous people and observations on street life that only an artist can see and most only hope to capture. Yet Hopper was clear about the focus of his art: “I wanted to document something. I wanted to leave something that I thought would be a record of it, whether it was Martin Luther King, the hippies, or whether it was the artist.” The exhibition is interspersed with such quotes, Hopper’s own words being used to introduce the themes in the different rooms. The imagery is diverse: hippy festivals, the American Civil Rights Movement, the Sunset Boulevard Riots, Bull fights and street life in LA, Mexico and beyond, wherever he happened to be. There are also a lot of portraits with images of Hells Angels, children, models, as well as the rich and famous such as Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, John Wayne and other beautiful people. He had such an incredible eye for a shot and you can see instantly the ability he had to get people to relax and be themselves in-front of the camera.
There is a gorgeous clip from Easy Rider running in the main exhibition to the soundtrack The Weight by The Band, one of the most popular songs of the late 1960s counterculture. The whole exhibition captures the essence of the 60’s. As Hopper said of Easy Rider: “The movie to me was about freedom and the responsibility that you have of being free”. Perhaps this could also be said of the exhibition.
Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album is at the RA in London from 26th June to 19th October 2014 and to coincide with the exhibition London’s BFI cinema is running a Dennis Hopper film season in July. For more information go to www.royalacademy.org.uk and www.bfi.org.uk