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book review by Richard Rivera
Dennis Hopper's Drugstore Camera is a freewheeling ongoing abstract monologue, a visual stream of consciousness and free verse. His early photographs revolve around friends and austere landscapes that have a beguiling simplicity. The more compelling photographs have the appearance of washed out or high-keyed tonalities as occurs with infrared photography. They paint a bare southwestern landscape, moonscape-like in its own whitewashed straightforwardness, and reflect the years immediately after Hopper’s success with Easy Rider, which he directed and won the First Film Award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.
Love of nature is evident in many of Hopper’s photographs and impart the feeling of someone who is at home and rooted, far from the Hollywood scene. Clearly he loved the outdoors, loved the Southwest, and yearned for the apparent simplicity of the southwestern landscape as someone who was seeking to avoid the complications of his life in L.A.
The counterculture of the 1960’s with its hippies, recreational drug use, and communal living, were not a fad for Dennis Hopper but something that was a part of his life, and is reflected in his photographs. His pictures are moody, and very much in touch with the freedom of spirit that dominated popular culture. In reading the reminiscences of Hopper’s son, Marin, and his recollections of that period—when he was a child of 6, and Dennis at 32 had finished Easy Rider and purchased property in Taos, New Mexico—it sounds like it was really Hopper’s time; one might say his happiest time as a personal apex, even though his stardom had not yet reached its pinnacle. His fame would attain greater heights after Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
The brief essay by his son is touching and informative as to Dennis Hopper’s life choices, and affords us a perspective on the images, but it does not specifically elaborate on any of the photos.
All of the photographs in the book are printed about the size of postcards, perhaps
4 x 5 inches, but with the wide margins that surround the images they create the fascinating illusion of being matted within the book, and enthrall you into dwelling on each image. They seem to follow a chronological order although none of them are labeled.
As Hopper aged, his photographs mirror less of the Zen-like simplicity from an earlier period and focus more on nature. One of the things that is evident is that Hopper had the heart of a poet, and some of that became obvious in his films like Easy Rider or even Apocalypse Now. His photographs are a testament to that kind of poetic free spirit that refuses to be bound by conventionality. And in a way it is also echoed by the unforgettable characters he played on screen such as in Hoosiers or Speed.
The photos themselves are black and white, modestly-sized on a letter-size page, and handsomely bound. The hardcover binding is beautifully done with large black stamped letters of the title over a photo, on the cover, back, and spine.
Richard Rivera's review also appeared in the New York Journal of Books website
July 2, 2015
Dennis Hopper DRUGSTORE CAMERA