Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dennis Hopper: Photographer

We photogs love to compare lists of our favorite movie shooters. There's John Malkovich's Al Rockoff in The Killing Fields (a portrayal, which incidentally, the photographer himself hates); there’s the fleet-footed videographer whose name I don’t remember from Welcome to Sarajevo; and there’s David Hemmings' swinging London fashion photog in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 hit Blow Up; and that’s just to name a few.

But for me the top of my list has always been occupied by the nameless photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. An image of Hopper's drug-addled, jungle-crazed photog standing wild-eyed on the bank of the (fictitious) Nung River with cameras dangling from his neck will be forever burned into my psyche as an early and strangely appealing glimpse at the passion, freedom and abandon a career in journalism would offer. The truth notwithstanding, even today, years later, I can’t watch Hopper’s portrayal without feeling a glimmer of satisfaction that I share a career with the actor’s whacked-out fatigue-clad photojournalist. That I’d say more than anything is a testament to Hopper’s extraordinary acting abilities.

But Hopper's portrayal of a photographer didn't stop at the screen. The actor, who died May 29, was an extraordinary artist. A painter and sculptor, he started shooting pictures in the 1960s at the urging of James Dean and subsequently accumulated a body of work spanning four decades.

In 2009, a year before his death, Taschen published a collection of Hopper’s early photographs in "Dennis Hopper: Photographs 1961-1967." You can view the entire 546-page book here.

Since his death there has been a renewed interest in his art.

On July 11 The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles opened the first comprehensive survey of Hopper's artistic career to be mounted by a North American museum. Curated by Julian Schnabel, Dennis Hopper Double Standard features more than 200 works including painting, photographs and sculpture. The exhibit runs through September.