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Dennis-Hooper-photography-14 Inspiration

Dennis Hopper Photographed The Lost Idealism Of The 1960s

By Michelle Bird on June 17th 2014


Before he directed and starred in the cult 1969 classic “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper was mingling in the LA Art scene as a photographer. His prime subjects consisted of celebrities, leading figures, and the counterculture that surrounded the Hollywood life.

The late actor began taking pictures at the age of 18, when James Dean encouraged him to pick up a camera; the two had starred together in Rebel Without A Cause. Hopper described photography as his creative outlet. “I never made a cent from these photos,” he said, “they cost me money but kept me alive.” Between the years 1961 and 1967, Hopper shot well over 10,000 images in black and white film, always sourcing natural light, and never cropping his images.

[REWIND: Before Filmmaking, Stanley Kubrick Was Known As A Visual Poet]

After his death in 2010, boxes of prints the actor had prepared for an art show back in the 1970s, laid untouched and waiting to be admired once again. This collection represents the years from 25-31.


There were portraits of Paul Newman and Jane Fonda, his artist friends Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Kienholz, the Hells Angels, hippies, and rioters. Hopper even made his way to Montgomery, Alabama, in ’65 to capture the civil rights movement. Partied in ’63 with Warhol at the Factory in NYC, shot for Vogue in ’65 where he captured Brian Jones, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and James Brown, not to mention he did the cover image for Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High album.

People weren’t his only focus, Hopper often went on walks in Los Angeles and New York, were he would capture the abstract world of the streets for himself; the texture of steel, wood and fabric, shop-signs and storefronts lingered on paper, his photography reminiscing the style of Walker Evans. His longtime friend Ed Ruscha said, “through his eyes, I can see a virtual dictionary of the City of Los Angeles.”


Andy Warhol (bottom left) and members of the Factory, 1963.


Paul Newman



Brian Jones, 1965


Roy Lichtenstein, 1964



Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim at Their Wedding 1964


Ike and Tina Turner



Robert Rauschenberg, 1966


1967 during the ‘Summer of Love’


James Brown


A group shot of Warhol, art dealer Henry Geldzahler, Hockney and Geldzahler’s friend Jeff Goodman was taken when Hopper was spending a lot of time at Warhol’s Factory


Ed Ruscha, 1964

CREDIT: All images, Courtesy of The Hopper Art Trust

[via] The Guardian

Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
Instagram , or Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Kurk Rouse

    Black and white often makes very simple images more impactful

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  2. Jacob Jexmark

    Some very nice photos there!

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  3. Tyler Friesen

    Excellent post!

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  4. Stuparu Sorin

    could be the first selfie in hist ? :)

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  5. Matt Walsh

    Dennis Hopper is the epitome of cool. That Paul Newman portrait is world class.

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  6. Rush Pollalk

    Dennis Hopper, My personal Lord and Savior !

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