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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Dennis Hopper,1999


Most people know Dennis Hopper for the indelible characters he's invented over more than forty years. His career spans from classics like Rebel Without a Cause in the mid-'50s and Easy Rider in the '60s, Apocalypse Now in the late-'70s, cult hits Blue Velvet and River's Edge in the '80s, to the '90s mega-blockbuster Speed. Once you've seen him in these movies, it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing those parts. And when you look back on many of the films that he's directed — Easy Rider, The Last Movie, Out of the Blue, Colors — they have an uncanny way of representing the times in which they were made. That's the reporter in Dennis Hopper, the person who always needs to say, "This is what I've seen."
What's not widely known about Dennis is that he's also a photographer. And he's been taking pictures since the early '60s, documenting the art scenes in New York and L.A., urban streets and Hollywood sets, rock 'n' roll bands, bikers, and civil rights marches. He's made definitive portraits of everyone from Brian Jones to Jasper Johns. Dennis always managed to be in the right place at the right time, and, with movies very much in his mind, his photographs show that he can also direct a picture with a still camera.
Until now, only two books of Dennis's photographs have been published. But thanks to the curator Walter Hopps, who held on to nearly three hundred contact sheets that Dennis himself hadn't seen since the late '60s, a new book is expected by the end of this year. Along with his old friend, the art dealer Tony Shafrazi, Dennis has been poring over thousands of images to assemble a comprehensive collection. With their final selections made, we asked Tony to give Dennis a call so we could hear about the project first-hand.

TONY: Hi, Dennis.
DENNIS: They just said "stand by." Is that a "yes," are we running?

TONY: Yes, we're running. 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 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.

TONY: Oh, I think a lot of it looks really cool. And now, after many years of talking to you, and many years of talking to Walter Hopps, we've finally managed to get hold of all the contact sheets, at least the 500-odd sheets that survived, that luckily Walter Hopps kept all this time.
DENNIS: That I literally haven't seen since the '60s.

TONY: And other than the 100 or so prints that we showed in Europe in '88, we never really looked at all of them carefully.
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. But there are two more, another one of him with the flower, but he's now smiling because he's seen me. And there's one with, I think, Barbara Rose's arm reaching for a cigarette. It's a longer shot of him, and he's so handsome, so young. It's 1962 or '63, he's in a suit-and-tie, and he looks really wonderful. And I've never even printed those. Those have never been seen before. 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."
DENNIS: [laughs]

TONY: Well, he's right! You can still have your 200-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: And the photos of Phil Spector, who looks like a young Mozart.
DENNIS: He was.

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. So that's the beginning. I have so many photographs of Ed Kienholz, of Wallace Berman, Lynn Foulkes, George Herms, Bruce Connor.

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.
DENNIS: Right. There's a big 12-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 Ferris, which was the Campbell's Soup paintings, 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's Soup painting. It was in the office at Virginia Dwan's, and I bought it for $75. This is '62 or '63.

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.
DENNIS: You have all the Happenings. There's Claes Oldenburg, that Auto Bodies Happening that I photographed, and then Rauschenberg and John Cage, roller-skating with the parachutes, and those big plastic tunnels that were filled with air.

TONY: And Allan Kaprow ...
DENNIS: With what I call "the Ice Palace." He built these great ice cubicles and then lit torches inside them and let them melt all over Los Angeles. There are wonderful photographs of that.

TONY: When I look at your pictures, I think of the kind of thing that we all did in the early '60s — where we'd take a camera and shoot off the television set, like all the Kennedy pictures you took.

TONY: In a way, your pictures are like a cinema veritŽ of the whole time. I see a lot of this as an almost na•ve 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.

TONY: Now, I guess everybody knows your history in the '50s, after making the great movies with James Dean ...
DENNIS: I went under contract to Warner Brothers on January 7, 1955, and I did Rebel Without a Cause that year, and Giant, I believe, was maybe the beginning of '56. They were made back-to-back, actually.

TONY: Where did you come from originally?
DENNIS: I was born in Dodge City, Kansas. After the war, my father came back, I was nine years old, and we moved to Newton, Kansas. Then we moved to Kansas City, Missouri. When I was thirteen, we moved to San Diego, and when I was eighteen I came to Los Angeles. After I graduated from high school, at the end of that summer in '55, I went under contract. I was eighteen years old.

TONY: But you were doing plays in San Diego, right? I seem to remember that you did "Hamlet" and all that stuff.
DENNIS: I started acting at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, from the time I was thirteen years old to when I was seventeen. I was doing Shakespeare and plays at the Old Globe in Balboa Park.

TONY: You met James Dean in '55.
DENNIS: Right.

TONY: And he had a real passion for art also, and encouraged you to take photographs?
DENNIS: Oh yeah. He said, "I know you want to be a director some day, so you should start learning how to compose pictures through your camera without cropping them." Because the idea in those days, everybody took photographs and cropped them.

TONY: So he liked painting and sculpture ...
DENNIS: Absolutely.

TONY: I remember as a kid seeing pictures of James Dean sort of fooling around ...
DENNIS: Oh, he painted.

TONY: He did?
DENNIS: I had a painting of his for a long time, of a Black actor named Billy Gunn, who was a close friend of Jimmy's. They used to meet under the gingko tree on the side of the 42nd Street Library in New York. They'd meet there after class at Lee Strassberg's at The Actors Studio. They used to do sense memories under the gingko tree. Anyway, it's a painting that Jimmy did of Billy Gunn with a saxophone. I had it for years, and then I gave it to Billy.

TONY: So he kind of encouraged you to get into art.
DENNIS: No, he didn't encourage me to get into art. I'd been painting and doing all that way before I met Jimmy.

TONY: You still have paintings of yours from that time, right?
DENNIS: I have a couple. But most of my paintings I lost in the Bel Aire fire in 1961, so the only ones that exist are the ones that my father and mother had. I lost everything in that fire, all of my paintings, but I had a show of my photographs that night and the negatives were saved. I tried to start painting again, but I just couldn't get it. And then I started to assemble objects with photographs.

TONY: At that time, you weren't making pictures — from '60 or '61? You were blacklisted.
DENNIS: Yeah, I had gotten in trouble with Henry Hathaway at 20th Century Fox. I had been loaned out from Warner Brothers ...

TONY: Who was he?
DENNIS: He was the director of The Sons of Katie Elder, which I was in. From Hell to Texas is the one I got in trouble on — around 1958. Then I went to New York and I studied with Strassberg.

TONY: You didn't do big Hollywood movies at that time, but you did the one with John Wayne and Dean Martin ...
DENNIS: That was The Sons of Katie Elder. And that was when I came back — six years after Hathaway had blackballed me. He rehired me for that picture. It was probably around '64.

TONY: So you started to use the camera because you weren't making films?
DENNIS: Well, I was a compulsive creator, so it became my creative outlet. I was using Tri-X film — which nobody else was using at the time — because I wanted to get as much natural light as possible and be able to shoot everything in natural light without flashes. I was a product of the movie business ...

TONY: Right.
DENNIS: ... but I was trying to go another way from the movie business. And I was taking pictures in black-and-white. Everyone else was using color. I was using Tri-X because I could shoot at night, and get shots by holding it real still, with just streetlights and so on. So these were things that I was playing with. But at the same time, a lot of my ideas were glamour ideas, because I wanted people to look good. So my portraits were about them in natural light, looking good, and looking in some way that had something to do with the reality of their world.

TONY: You were a young, good-looking guy at the time, from the late '50s, already the famous star that you were. So obviously, whoever you were taking pictures of, they'd respond to you, to your character.
DENNIS: And I was also a product of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. There are a lot of common objects with the people in my photographs, and a lot of funky, abstract kind of things. There's also the graffiti and the stuff that was around in the streets. Because I was taking people into the streets.

TONY: Creating set-ups ...
DENNIS: And working around billboards. I was very hung up on billboards. Foster & Klein was a billboard company, and I took Rosenquist down to their factory, I took a lot of people down there.

TONY: Let's switch gears a little bit, because we should talk about the movies. One of the first so-called independent movies was Blue Velvet, which was around '82. At the time, I remember you had an idea about those malls, where you have lots of movie theaters ...
DENNIS: I was saying that it would be a great idea when people build a cineplex, that maybe three theaters out of the ten could be showing movies besides the current Hollywood releases. One could show independent films, another could show foreign films, and you'd have one just for old movies — so people have a continuity and understand the history of film.
You'd be able to see Birth of a Nation or 400 Blows or Hiroshima mon amour, an old Gary Cooper movie, or whatever. And the Italian films, the French films, all the European films. They practically have no industries now anyway. It would give them back what used to be known as the art house circuit, so they can be distributed, have an audience and make some money here. And independent films in this country are in the same position. Miramax and Fine Line are not independent — they're with Disney! Come on. Or they're with Warner Brothers. They're all with somebody.

TONY: Right, right.
DENNIS: The Hollywood way and the quick pace and so on ... it's great on certain levels, but there's another way of looking at things, too, which is more slow-paced, more realistic, more in tune with the feelings of the smaller stories.

TONY: You know who talks about film in the same way? And you don't feel as if it's some young movie star at all — Sean Penn. I remember you saying, "Hey, man, he's a great actor, but wait til you see the movie he directed."
DENNIS: Indian Runner.

TONY: Sean acted for you in Colors, and you became really good friends. He actually named one of his sons after you, I think?
DENNIS: Yup. Hopper Jack. For myself and Jack Nicholson.

TONY: You kept telling me about Indian Runner, and finally, I saw it last week.
DENNIS: It's a great movie. Great movie. The one with Jack, The Crossing Guard, was not successful. It was a terrific idea that I think got really out of hand, and was not clear. But the third movie, Indian Runner, is a masterpiece.
You know, this is such a rich time that we've just been involved in, and there's really a job now for historians. Film is still very young. This is the first hundred years of filmmaking. So I think it's important that we have some sense of history and continuity. Especially in film.

TONY: But the visual arts are in need of it also.
DENNIS: I consider the movies the visual arts, too. [laughs]

TONY: Hey, wasn't that great, that Ed Harris won a Golden Globe?
DENNIS: Yeah, it was terrific — with a part I got fired from. [laughs] Now, do you think that historians will know that in The Truman Show, with Jim Carrey, that the part Ed Harris played, and we're happy that he won the award for, that I was fired from after shooting one day?

TONY: Shit. Oh, man! You were supposed to do that part?
DENNIS: [laughs] I started it. I did months and months of preparation. I went down and saw Peter Weir twice in Florida. I spent six months on that picture, and then did one day shooting, and Scott Rudin, the producer, who I'd never even met, he never wanted me for the part. He said he would wait for one day's rushes, and if he didn't want me in the picture he was going to fire me — and he did. Anyway, that's my story. But I enjoyed the picture, and I thought Ed was really good in it. I think he's a terrific actor.

TONY: He is. And he's a good guy.
DENNIS: Yup. I like him very much. But it was the first time ... It was the only time in my life I've ever been fired.

TONY: We could leave this out.
DENNIS: Don't worry about it. It's the reality. What does it matter? And I'm happy for him. I really am.

TONY: So what are you busy with right now?
DENNIS: Well, I met with the people in London about the Robert Fraser book. It's a great history.

TONY: It's the whole story of his gallery and his friendships with everybody from Ellsworth Kelly in the late '50s to Andy Warhol and Oldenburg in the '60s.
DENNIS: And all the Los Angeles artists coming to London for the first time ... Ed Ruscha and myself, Wallace Berman and Jess Collins.

TONY: And of course, he knew all the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger met Marianne Faithful in his gallery. He's such a pivotal person in London at that time. That book will make an incredible movie, and they're keen on talking about the possibility of you directing that.
DENNIS: But it's written in interview form. There's quotes from me, quotes from you, from Paul McCartney, various Stones and all the players. So to make a film out of it, it's like where do you start, where do you end — where are you? You've got a bunch of interviews. To make a documentary is one thing, to make a feature film is quite another.

TONY: If you approach it in a simple way, it could be done. Otherwise, it could take too much of your life.
DENNIS: There's no way to approach it in a simple way. I mean, to do this properly, it's going to take two years. And they're not quite sure what they want to do.

TONY: Well, the form of it will depend on you. They have all these great interviews.
DENNIS: Somebody's got to write a screenplay. What they have is more like Jean Stein's Kennedy Funeral Train.

TONY: Or Edie.
DENNIS: But to make a movie, you've got to figure out who's going to play Robert. And even if you show the paintings that he was exhibiting, and the interviews and music give you the whole flavor of the time, something's still missing. And what's missing in all this is the drama of his life. It doesn't really appear.

TONY: I see.
DENNIS: You know, where's Robert? There's nobody saying, "Hey, I was going through this, man ..." And what about the times he went off to India, for example, and abandoned art? His voice has to come through. I mean, you can have people talking about it, but it's not the same.

TONY: That period of the '60s is also the period of your photographs. You're there with him.
DENNIS: That's when I photographed Brian Jones, and I took pictures of Robert in Mexico. He bought a lot of incredible folk art in Mexico — The Day of the Dead figures he took back to London. And when he went to India, when he chases the dragon into India, he came back with all those erotic miniature paintings. Did you ever see those?

TONY: Yes, sure.
DENNIS: There's all this wonderful stuff that we can put in a movie, that tells you so much about him. And while people are talking, you can see all this — and show the Jim Dines and the Oldenburgs and the Rauschenbergs and the Warhols and the Ed Ruschas ... and the Hoppers even. [laughs]

TONY: Weren't you just working on a movie in Germany?
DENNIS: It's called Straight Shooter. I play a guy who fought in Vietnam, went in the French Foreign Legion ...

TONY: Will it be a fun movie?
DENNIS: Oh, it's a great script, wonderful part. But I was the only one speaking English. So when I go to Germany, I'll be speaking German. They dubbed me immediately into German. But it's with all the big stars in Germany. Miramax is supposedly going to distribute it in the United States, and they're going to have it at Cannes.

TONY: If it gets distributed in America, you'll be talking in English, obviously.
DENNIS: Yes. Then it goes back to my soundtrack.

TONY: Okay, my man. I shouldn't keep you on any longer.
DENNIS: All right, buddy.

TONY: So listen, I'll talk to you soon, huh?
DENNIS: Yes, sir.

TONY: Much love.
DENNIS: Bye, bye.

© index magazinetobias
Dennis Hopper by Terry Richardson, 1999
© index magazinetobias
Dennis Hopper by Terry Richardson, 1999



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