Jane Fonda (with bow and arrow), 1965
“No, no. Everybody’s confused. My whole written history is one big lie! [laughs] I mean, I can’t even believe my history.” – Dennis Hopper
Dennis Hopper with Tony Shafrazi, Interview excerpts from Index Magazine, 1999
Tony: It’s a long time since I talked to you. So what are you doing these days?
Dennis: Well, I’ve been going through the proof sheets.
Tony: Great. I did also, and they look wonderful.
Dennis: Well, it’s a hard process for me, because there are so many people who are dead, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy and so on. I have so many memories.
Tony: Are you moving ahead and choosing good images?
Dennis: I’m still going through them. I didn’t use a light meter; I just read the light off of my hands. So the light varies, and there are some dark images. Also, I’m sort of a nervous person with the camera, so I will just shoot arbitrarily until I can focus and compose something, and then I make a shot. So generally, in those proof sheets, there are only three or four really concentrated efforts to take a photograph. It’s not like a professional kind of person who sets it up so every photograph looks really cool.
Wallace Berman, 1964
Tony: Oh, I think a lot of it looks really cool.
Dennis: You know the one photograph I picked of Andy with the flower – the one where he’s not smiling and looking sort of straight at the camera? That’s the one that’s become a very famous picture of Andy.
And I have so many great photographs of Ed Ruscha that have never been printed.
Tony: I told Ed that we are trying to do a big book of your photographs, and he said, “You should do a big book! There are so many great pictures. Just tell Dennis you should print all of them, man.”
“You know, the history of California art doesn’t start until about 1961, and that’s when these photographs start. I mean, we have no history out here.” – Dennis Hopper
Tony: Well, he’s right! You can still have your two-hundred-odd pages of single pictures, and have many others in contact form. It could be the way we’re looking at them, slightly more enlarged maybe. I was just looking at some incredible photos of Jane Fonda…
Dennis: Oh, some terrific shots of Jane. With the bow-and-arrow and the bikini.
Tony: So there’s a lot of stuff there. I think we can play with it, and it will read more like a film.
Dennis: You know, the history of California art doesn’t start until about 1961, and that’s when these photographs start. I mean, we have no history out here.
Tony: And you were one of the first patrons, you were collecting art. There’s a picture of you in your living room and Ed Ruscha’s big gas station painting is hanging there.
“But I did have the first Campbell Soup painting. It was in the office at Virginia Dwan’s, and I bought it for seventy-five dollars from John Webber who was the director of Dwan Gallery. This was in ’62 or ’63.” – Dennis Hopper
Dennis: Right. There’s a big twelve-foot Standard station, that was the first one. It’s a great painting. One of his best.
Tony: When Andy had his first one-man show in L.A. at Ferus, which was the Campbell’s Soup painting, you ended up buying one. And they only sold two, I think.
Dennis: No, no. Everybody’s confused. My whole written history is one big lie! [laughs] I mean, I can’t even believe my history. But I did have the first Campbell Soup painting. It was in the office at Virginia Dwan’s, and I bought it for seventy-five dollars from John Webber who was the director of Dwan Gallery. This was in ’62 or ’63.
Jane Fonda (with bow and arrow), 1965
Tony: I think that in planning this book we have to find a way to keep a bit of the narrative that’s there. You were around all the time with the camera. And you can see that in these pictures.
When I look at your photos, I think of the kind of thing that we all did in the early sixties – where we’d take a camera and shoot off the television set, like all the Kennedy funeral pictures you took.
In a way, your images are like a cinema verite of that time. I see a lot of this as an almost naive or cleaner or purer image of the feeling I get when I see Easy Rider. You’re traveling across this wonderful time and space… your photos give that feeling to me. This isn’t just the work of a photographer, but of someone telling a story. You are very much engaged with the subjects – you are part of what is happening.
Dennis Hopper. Photographs 1961-1967.
Photographs by Dennis Hopper.
(All rights reserved. Text @ Tony Shafrazi, images @ Dennis Hopper Estate)