60s hollywood, captured by renegade photographer dennis hopper

Dennis Hopper acted in 'Rebel Without a Cause', directed 'Easy Rider,' and also took photographs of his friends Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.

by Sarah Moroz
23 October 2015, 4:10pm

Dennis Lee Hopper is most readily associated with his iconic film performances—he directed and starred in Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, he played a photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola's blockbuster Apocalypse Now and a monstrously unhinged gangster in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.

But Hopper was also an acclaimed photographer, notably prolific in the 1960s. Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris is now exhibiting Icons of the Sixties, a selection of 35 black-and-white vintage photographs taken between 1962 and 1967: a West Coast chronicle of beatniks, pop artists and Hollywood stars. Hopper's friendships with fellow actors are depicted in images of subjects like Paul Newman (shirtless, in partial shadow, looking fine) and the Fonda siblings (Peter with a tripod; Jane snuggling with Roger Vadim).

His circle also spanned the art scene and the counterculture. He captured James Rosenquist standing coolly under a billboard of a blonde pin-up, Robert Rauschenberg in frenetic motion mid-performance, Roy Lichtenstein sitting before one of the tearful women of his canvases, Niki de Saint Phalle studiously engaged in her dimensional work, and Andy Warhol—who had a lasting influence on Hopper after they met in the early 60s—holding a single flower with a sly smile. There are also shots of music mainstays, such as Ike and Tina Turner, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, and producer Phil Spector. Hopper later reflected on his images, "a lot if my ideas were glamour ideas, because I wanted people to look good... and that had something to do with the reality of their worlds."

Shot using only natural light, his prints feature irregularly-edged frames produced by emulsion. He was attentive to the visual texture of backgrounds (posters, advertising), which added an extra layer beyond the iconography of the subject: an ad for the Mexican drink Jarritos, the word "American" on a brick wall.

In addition to the photographs, the exhibition includes the reconstructed sculpture Bomb Drop, an anti-war piece made of plexiglass, neon and stainless steel, which is a large-scale replica of a World War II bomb drop switch. The original, built by Hopper in 1967, during the Vietnam War, was left to decay on his property in the New Mexican desert.

Also on view: a film projector which unspools a 16mm reel of a 1983 performance at the Houston Big H Speedway. It shows Hopper as he plays casually with explosives and "wooooooooo!"s in a cloud of smoke. "Dynamite won't blow in on itself—you lay the dynamite in a circle and simply get inside," he advises. (His daredevil shenanigans later led to a bender in the desert, and eventually resulted in drug rehab.)

A grouping of memorabilia from Dennis Hopper's life shows past passports, and correspondence that gives a sense of his personal dealings. "Dear Dennis, I was a little upset to hear from Elaine Dutka of Time magazine that you think I have been going around saying I cut Easy Rider," reads a 1986 letter from an undisclosed sender, scribbled in brown pen. A postcard sent by Hopper to Garica Florincia reads: "Arrived in Lima / 3 hours went / to Arrequipa…" A typed memo from Susan Loesser at Life magazine from 1970: "There is evidence from several sources that Mr. Hopper has used heroin in the past." These snippets flesh out Hopper, beyond his film roles, as a hedonistic, mercurial figure, astutely in tune with the 60s.

'Icons of the Sixties' is on show now through January 9, 2016, at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris.


Text Sarah Moroz
Photography Dennis Hopper, courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

dennis hopper