Dennis Hopper, Photographer

hopper1712.jpgApparently Dennis Hopper is starring in the new TV adaptation of Crash, which holds no interest for me, since it’s an adaptation of the bad Paul Haggis movie from 2004. (An adaptation of the Cronenberg/Ballard movie from 1996 might be equally awkward, but at least it would be unlike anything else on TV.) But the recent advertisements reminded me that in one of the cooler phone conversations I’ve ever had, I got to talk to Hopper about his photography. (He advised aspiring film directors to try telling a story through storyboarded photos first.) Rolling Stone printed about half of the following in their 2002 “Cool Issue” (issue 893, 4/11/02):

Before he was a film director, Dennis Hopper was a photographer. And before he was a photographer, he would walk down the streets of New York City, framing images with his hands. You probably know Hopper for his wild-eyed acting, from the biker in Easy Rider to the bomber in Speed, but he’s always had a secret life as an excellent visual artist. Not just “excellent for an actor”: he makes perceptive, lovely images. Did you think that camera around his neck in Apocalypse Now was just a prop? Decades from now, he may be better remembered as an artist than as a performer.

People are finally starting to notice: a retrospective of his artwork is touring this year from Amsterdam to Vienna to Moscow. An eight-minute video he made about a Dutch homeless girl will be shown in the prestigious Whitney Biennial. And he has a new book of old photographs, 1712 North Crescent Heights (Greybull Press), documenting his life from 1962 to 1968, when he and his then-wife Brooke Hayward presided over an LA coterie of actors and artists. (It’s edited by their daughter Marin, who got Dad’s permission to look through his contact sheets, in search of forgotten happy times.) See Tina Turner trying to get her mouth around an enormous Coke bottle! Teri Garr on the beach! Jane Fonda practicing archery! But even without the celebrity quotient, Hopper’s photographs would beautifully evoke a vision of the ’60s as a playground: innocents in the garden of California.

Hopper’s impressive Pop Art collection can be seen in the background of many of the photos: originals by luminaries such as Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg. These days, he says, he relies on phone conversations with Julian Schnabel and Damien Hirst to keep him up-to-date with what’s going on in the art world. (Although he does live in a house designed by Frank Gehry.) “And I doodle,” he says. “I can’t paint, just because I haven’t gotten my studio set up. But I just took some incredible photos in South Africa.”

Asked if his approach to art has changed in the last four decades, Hopper says, “I was in Amsterdam for a month, working on my retrospective, and I saw a lot of Flemish painting while I was there. That changed how I looked at light.” He laughs. “But everything else is pretty much the same.”

Most of that Pop Art collection, by the way, was lost in a fire. Used copies of 1712 North Crescent Heights now go for $150 and up, but you can see a very fast flickering slide show (freezable if you click on it) of some of the pictures here.

posted 15 October 2008 in Articles and tagged , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on Dennis Hopper, Photographer

  1. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    Hopper took that famous picture of Ike and Tina Turner, with Ike at the organ and Tina at the washboard. It was shot at Phil Spector’s house.

  2. cathy Says:

    just saw sons of katie elder had no idea
    dennis is so petite–
    his movies in general really conceal this

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