Many stars claim that had they not been actors, they’d have been hooligans; by all accounts Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) managed to be both. In 1955 aged 19, he appeared in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. In 1961, wife-to-be Brooke Hayward gave him a camera and for the next few years, until distracted by writing and directing the 1969 film ‘Easy Rider’, he interspersed his acting roles and drug-related insanity with thousands of black-and-white photographs.
Unsurprisingly, many are as cool as 1960s LA itself, with Paul Newman, Andy Warhol and James Brown showing up shiny with youth and promise. Less predictably, this exhibition is far more than a hall of fame. Hopper had talent – whether framing his friends, following Martin Luther King on the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march (at the whimsical suggestion of Marlon Brando) or taking crazy abstracts of bedsprings. His technique isn’t always perfect, but where’s the fun in perfection? Shots of hippies and Hells Angels are clearly captured by a fellow traveller but only the shot of rockers Buffalo Springfield, arrayed in a field, feels a little stagey.
There’s a sorry lack of information here – are the curators so sure every visitor will know who Claes Oldenburg or Ed Ruscha are? But as you browse to the strains of The Band playing over a typically louche ‘Easy Rider’ clip, it’s hard not to feel elated that Hopper’s multitasking extended to filmmaking, boozing, fighting with anyone who could help him… and taking photographs.