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.
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There is a HUGE opportunity to make use of the enormous space inside the Royal Academy and it's such a shame that this show doesn't fill it - you could easily house it in a much smaller gallery.
So, if you try to ignore the incredibly lazy curation which lacks imagination, you can focus on the exquisitely cool and playful images from this easy riding legend. However, I reckon you'd get just as much joy from buying the book in RA shop.
Legendary actor and director Dennis Hopper spent a good portion of his life taking photos, and this recently discovered collection is part of the result. Hopper shot mostly portraits, of friends and significant people of the day, and more than a few scantily-clad ladies.
More than 400 images are featured, all in black and white, and almost all in the original size of 24 x 16 cm. As a result, it's a bit overwhelming, and they start to become much of a muchness toward the end. The entire room given over to more abstract work adds little to the collection, and a tighter edit focusing on portraiture would have given this more impact. That being said, the good ones are very good.
For more art in plain English, check out http://curatedlondon.co.uk