Dennis Hopper

The Lost Album July 8 - September 1, 2017

Kohn Gallery presents for the first time in Los Angeles, Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album, a re-envisioning of Hopper’s first photography show in 1970. Curators, Claudia Bohn-Spector and Sam Mellon of MICRONAUT, introduce a fresh take on Hopper’s Fort Worth show, presenting these surviving prints in a new, critical context for his work. The photographs include some of Hopper’s most iconic work, arranged in evocative narrative groupings that encapsulate his unique and conceptual photographic practice.

The Lost Album in its entirety is an exciting collection of more than four hundred photographs taken in the 1960’s by Dennis Hopper, the American actor, director, and artist, mounted on board, and in some cases numbered on the reverse with brief notes handwritten by Hopper. Forgotten, stored in some obscure place in five boxes, these pictures were unearthed after Hopper’s death in 2010. Hopper personally selected these images for his first major exhibition from the plethora of photographs he had taken between 1961 and 1967. Snapshots show him installing these works, in 1970, at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum together with the then director, Henry T. Hopkins. The resurfaced body of work is a testament to one of his most formative periods, consisting of small-scale panels. Mounted on cardboard, the photographs were fixed directly to the wall with neither frames nor glass by means of small strips of wood attached to the reverse.

The legendary images – spontaneous, intimate, and poetic, as well as political and sharply observant – documents the protagonists and milieus of a crucial period. They reflect America’s dynamic cultural scene in the sixties and the atmosphere of the time. Exerting an irresistible fascination, they take viewers on a journey into the past, which is, in many cases, their own history. In addition to his iconic portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman, and Jane Fonda, Hopper’s interest was all encompassing. Wherever he was, be it in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico, or Peru, he would observe attentively capturing on film geniuses of his day, movie actors, artists, musicians, and poets, his family and friends, the “scene”, the Hell’s Angels, and the hippies. He roamed the streets of Harlem, the cemeteries of Durango, and was fascinated by the spectacle of bullfights in Tijuana. He accompanied Martin Luther King, Jr. with his camera on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Paying attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, Hopper transformed the “remains” of our world into images of great beauty and tranquility, as if converting Abstract Expressionist Painting into the language of photography.

Dennis Hopper, in co-curator Sam Mellon’s words, was a man of brilliant gifts and considerable passion. “He looked at the world as a testing ground for his creative ideas and used photography to actively shape his vision as an independent filmmaker.” He first picked up a camera when he was in his early 20s, a talented and contentious outcast of the Hollywood studio system. Following the suggestion of James Dean, he began taking pictures to study how a movie camera framed its subjects, capturing all of his photographs full frame and in natural light. In 1961, his soon-to-be wife Brooke Hayward gave him his first camera, a Nikon mirror reflex with a 28mm lens. His first black & white pictures were of people in the streets of New York City, followed by views of Los Angeles, Mexico, and other regions of America. An avid art collector, who befriended many of the up-and coming artists, musicians, actors, and filmmakers of the day, Hopper was a key figure in the emerging L.A. art scene of the 1960s, and his many portraits of friends, notably of Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, were used for publicity announcements or for covers of the magazine Artforum.

Dennis Hopper pursued photography seriously for ten years, taking his camera wherever he went and earning himself the nickname “the tourist.” He stopped taking photographs in 1967, just as he prepared his directorial debut in Easy Rider. Curator Claudia Bohn-Spector states “photography was a tool of transition for him, allowing him to stay engaged creatively at a time of considerable professional change and uncertainty.” Surveying 1960s America with his camera, Hopper excavated the spirit of an era and consolidated his vision as he plotted his next steps in filmmaking. The Lost Album is a testament to Hopper’s evolution as a photographer during this time of creative and professional transformation, encapsulating the seeds from which his career as one of America’s premier actors and filmmakers would spring.

Shown in conjunction with the show will be works by Dennis Hopper’s friends, contemporaries, and photography subjects. The selected works by John Altoon, Wallace Berman, Charles Brittin, Bruce Conner, Joe Goode, and Andy Warhol were created in the 1960s during the same time Hopper was creating The Lost Album.

Selected Press