A New Show of Dennis Hopper’s Photos is Opening in Los Angeles
By Lane Florsheim
Dennis Hopper often talked about his first photography show when he was alive. The exhibition of 400 black-and-white photos, shot between 1961-1967, took place in 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center in Texas. It was an achievement that remained to him since, despite his prolific acting career, Hopper increasingly wished to be remembered as a photographer by the end of his life.
After he died in 2010, his daughter Marin Hopper, who designs the luxury fashion brands Hayward and Hopper (named after her maternal grandfather and father, respectively), discovered all of the photographs from the show tucked away in his garage, in boxes among Christmas ornaments. “It was incredible to find the layout of the original show and the notes behind each piece,” she says. “It was hundreds of photographs. No one could believe they weren’t in art storage.”
The collection, now titled The Lost Album, opens at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles on July 8. The small-scale images mounted simply on cardboard make for an intimate viewing experience. The Lost Album has previously been shown at the Martin Gropius Museum in Berlin, in London at the Royal Academy of Arts and at Gagosian Gallery in New York. This summer’s show is a homecoming of sorts not simply because Hopper had settled in a Frank Gehry-designed home in Venice by the mid-‘80s, but also because his photographs will be accompanied by the works of artists who were his friends and influences, including Andy Warhol, Wallace Berman and Bruce Conner.
Hopper was an avid collector of both assemblage and pop art onwards from age 26, when he bought one of Andy Warhol’s soup can paintings for $75. A shot of Hopper’s living room includes works by Warhol, Ed Kienholz and Jasper Johns. Naturally, the people who surrounded him informed part of his unique perspective. Though Hopper didn’t want to be known as just an actor who took pictures of his interesting circle, his portraits of his actor and artist friends remain among his most captivating. He captured the era’s less high-profile characters too: hippies and protesters and motorcyclists. And his interests weren’t limited to the New York City and Los Angeles scenes. A decade after meeting Martin Luther King Jr. at the Chateau Marmont in 1955, Hopper joined and photographed one of the activist’s famous marches from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.
Hopper’s daughter Marin didn’t see his photos until she was 18 or 19, and she remembers feeling awed by her father’s natural ability to frame everything he photographed in his mind. Just as movie directors can’t crop their shots after filming, Hopper never cropped his compositions after they were developed. It makes sense then that despite his passion for art, his photography was more about his aspiration to make movies. “I think these photos saved his life because it gave him an outlet, even when felt like he wasn’t going to become a director,” she says. “Taking them helped him bridge the gap between being an actor and becoming a director.” Hopper stopped taking photographs as he prepared to direct and star in Easy Rider, the 1969 film that made his career.
Marin sees The Lost Album as a precursor to this success. “It shows you so much about , as he would refer to it, his keen eye,” she says. “It feels like you’re almost on the road with him, through his travels, through his life.”