Dennis Hopper – Photo exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin

Foto: Dennis Hopper / © The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust
Jack of all trades Dennis Hopper is on show at Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau with a re-discovered collection of black-and-white photographs in which his highly idiosyncratic photography shows links different layers of mid-Century America.
The late Dennis Hopper was a true Renaissance man and not just because his expertise spanned from acting, directing, photographing and painting but because his persona enveloped all spectrums of society from the social outcasts to mainstream, widely accepted subjects. He united both ends of America’s cultural spectrum forging a coherent narrative where others would just see discrepancies. Over 400 of his photographs, found in his basement after his death in 2010 and now displayed at Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau, prove this in a film sequence-like narrative.

The black and white photographs mounted on cardboard show sign of wear conjuring images of a younger Hopper leafing through his impressive library of abstract impressions over and over again as he prepares for his first photography exhibition at Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas in 1969. It would be a tough piece of work to edit this collection as, just like scenes of a movie, each photograph is part of a larger narrative: political photos of a Martin Luther King speech, a sequence of voyeuristic shots depicting a homeless guy in a trench coat, face hidden by a large brimmed hat packing his material existence into a tattered suitcase, hippies at a ‘love-in’ and portraits of America’s new artistic elite unite to create a bigger picture. A bigger picture of an increasingly contradictory post-WW2 America, an America fighting to break out of white picket fenced barriers, an America united not by patriotism but by the dawning dystopia that once was the American dream.

Hopper’s directorial debut Easy Rider (1969), in which he also acted, rebelled against the frigid expectations of Hollywood yet was highly acclaimed among the film world elite. He had the cultural finesse to link the mainstream with the avant-garde and it is this character who makes these photographs stand out. A thirsty character seeking vital moments driven by curiosity and a child-like lack of shame. His series of Hell’s Angel bikers photographed without any sense of fear make him the photographic equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism. His subjects aren’t exposed to judgement, he doesn’t build a wall between him and them and he doesn’t draw any conclusions – this is the viewers job.