Ashley Jouhar examines an exhibition of photography by Dennis Hopper, with a visual imagination as streetwise, epic and iconic as the America of Easy Rider
American actor, director, photographer, all-round creative maverick and cool cat Dennis Hopper. Oh, and famously fell out with Jane Fonda’s brother.
An exhibition and book release at The Royal Academy of Arts, London. This show re-creates almost exactly the show that Hopper was invited to put together and exhibit in 1970 at The Fort Worth Art Center Museum. The gelatine-silver vintage prints displayed here are the very same ones Hopper printed in 1970. Taken during a period when Hopper’s cinematic creativity was ‘caged’ by being blacklsited (see below) he still had access to a creative network, and being a temporary outsider lent a different take on this world.
The image which struck me, even before seeing this show was the ‘Double Standard’ 1961 photograph. It captures everything I love about Americana; the open road, car culture, the sense of space, the graphics of the signage and the advertising hoardings. It makes me think of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, traversing America in On The Road. It feels like Lee Friedlander’s series America by Car, where he shot from the interior of his car, whatever grabbed his attention – always framed by the window, door-edge or his car interior’s rearview. It puts me in mind of the great Walker Evans photographs, whose chosen subject was the vernacular – visual expressions of roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements and small-town main streets. It has the energy of a Robert Frank photograph from The Americans – honest, un-cropped, ‘telling it like it is’, a piece of social documentary. And of course, it links to Hopper’s great friend, Ed Ruscha, whose work Hopper collected. Ruscha often photographed buildings, graphics and gas stations in their own right, as well as drawing on them for inspiration for his paintings.
Black and White photography seems to be resurgent at the moment, in fashion, advertising and editorial. It is also being discovered by a new generation who can dial it into their snaps on Instagram or any number of other ‘film-like’ filters when post producing their digital files; just select ‘Heritage’ , ‘Art’ or ‘Authenticity’ in your drop down menu!
Art meets Commerce?
Hopper himself said, “I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive.” In a creatively barren period for Hopper, after he’d been in Rebel without a Cause and Giant and then blacklisted after on-set bust-ups with actors and directors, Hopper found a creative outlet in his photography. It is the culmination of this that we see in The Lost Album show.
One question for the image maker?
It is the slim period of time that you captured on film that makes your photography so powerful – along with the subject matter, the social change going on all around, your viewpoint and your interest in all things cultural and countercultural. What would the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond have looked like through your renegade eyes?
For more info on the show click here The Royal Academy