THE BLOG

Petra Giloy-Hirtz on Dennis Hopper's 'Lost Album'

15/07/2014 19:08 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

Culturally we have never had such a fascination with the outsider, collectively we pour over the works of the beats, the renegades and the tricky iconoclasts. As much as I have been and continued to be inspired by the history of counter culture I strongly hold the belief that the essence of this isn't something that you can wear, create or do, it's something that you are.

Dennis Hopper definitely 'was'. Well known for his Hollywood antics, his extreme hedonism has been well documented. Anecdotes include heading into the desert with a donkey load of cocaine and a vat of whiskey and so they go on.

In 1961 Dennis Hopper was persona non grata in Hollywood and decided to try and build an alternative career as a photographer. 'The Lost Album' was shot between 1961 and 1967 and is seen by many as the creative preparation, conscious or unconscious, for the film classic Easy Rider.

The images document flower power, the US Civil Rights Movement, the art scene in Los Angeles and New York at the time and there are also some candid shots of Hollywood greats.

I spoke to Petra Giloy-Hirtz, the curator of 'The Lost Album' at The Royal Academy about her work on this exhibition and her work.

You have worked, recently, on both the David Lynch exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery and this show of Dennis Hopper's work. Do you have a particular interest in these types of 'stand alone' artists?

Yes, I have worked with David Lynch, Dennis Hopper and Julian Schnabel as well; I worked on an exhibition and a publication on his Polaroids.

I find these artists interesting as they literally 'stand alone' in terms of what their photography concerns. They do not emerge from a photographic scene and they are not part of a 'stream' as with some photographers, who work consistently with this one medium. They go in and out (of the medium), their photography is a counterpoint to their other work, to the other mediums that are primarily known for, be it film, or painting.

It is intriguing to look at the correspondences between their 'still photography' and their 'moving images' as their painterly language and the different ways they express their perception of the world.

You spoke, at the opening, about the exhibition being a recreation almost of the show in 1971, what were the particular challenges and the joys of doing things this way?

I attempted to reconstruct the original hanging, causing the sixties to flash before the viewer's eyes like a film. The arrangement of the photographs is based on careful scrutiny of a few installation shots we have from the exhibition at Fort Worth Art Center Museum in Texas from 1970 and numbers on the reverse of the photographs mounted on cardboard.

This was quite an adventurous research. Sometimes it was possible to identify the order exactly and sometimes I tried more intuitively to do it how I thought Dennis Hopper would have liked it.

Eleven of the vintage prints that were on view in 1970 turned out to be lost and we had to replace them with reproductions of new prints. In two of these cases the print could not be attributed to a negative and has been substituted by a blank cardboard with the given title.

On the other hand nineteen more vintage prints were found in the same boxes, however, because they are not numbered on the reverse, it would appear that Hopper ultimately decided not to include them in the exhibition. I incorporated them into the "Lost Album"... It is a challenging and delightful experience to create a flow of almost 450 photographs and I think in the beautiful spaces of the Royal Academy they just look great.

There are some really special images and series' of images in the exhibition, do you have one that touched or you found particularly interesting?

There are legendary iconic images, the artists, the movie stars, hippies and bikers, the Civil Rights Movement. I especially love the ones on first view unspectacular where Hopper paid attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, transforming the remains of our world into images of great beauty and tranquillity, as if converting Abstract Expressionist painting into the language of photography. This transformation of the everyday into abstract compositions is a constant of his visual language, in photography as well as in film- thinking of his film, Colors, (which Hopper shot in South Central Los Angeles in 1988, a homage to the murals of that city.)

The Lost Album is on at The Royal Academy, from 26th June-19th October 2014