Dennis Hopper may be well known to UK audiences as the star of iconic films including Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now, but he wanted to be remembered as a photographer, according to his eldest daughter ahead of a new exhibition of his work.
The American actor, painter and photographer was encouraged to pick up the camera by James Dean, and considered a career in photography before being cast in Easy Rider.
"Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album" opens at the Royal Academy of Arts today, with more than 400 photographs taken by the actor between 1961 and 1967.
Marin Hopper, his daughter, told The Independent: “I don’t know if people understand how important photography was to him. When he died he really wanted to be remembered as a photographer first and foremost. He told me near the end that he wanted to be taken seriously as a photographer and be in collections and museums.”
The original photographs were selected by Hopper for his first photography exhibition in Fort Worth Art Center in Texas in 1970, and the prints were only rediscovered after his death four years ago.
Ms Hopper said: “He was always taking pictures but I didn’t see where they all went. It was extraordinary to find these. It’s a touching time capsule for us.”
During the 1960s, Hopper took pictures of everything from the civil rights movement, to hippy gatherings, brawling biker gangs and fellow actors such as Jane Fonda and Paul Newman. “I wanted to be a witness of my time,” he said.
He was also friends with many in the art world and took a series of photographs of artists including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney.
Tim Marlow, director of artistic programmes at the RA, called Hopper a “role model for a generation of actor-artists. He was much an artist as he was an actor.”
It is the first time these works have been shown in the UK. Ms Hopper said: “He really loved London, and came back a lot. He would have been very honoured to have a show at the Royal Academy. To see the beautiful entrance with the portrait of him looking majestic is great.”
His interest in photography had been encouraged by James Dean when they worked together on the set of Rebel without a Cause in 1955 then Giant a year later.
When Hopper returned to Hollywood in 1961 his difficult character had led to him being blacklisted. He picked up the camera and, according to curator Petra Giloy-Hirtz, thought photography would become his career, taking more than 18,000 photographs. He put down the camera when he started work on Easy Rider in 1967.
Hopper said: “I wanted to document something. I wanted to leave something that I thought would be a record of it, whether it was Martin Luther King, the hippies, or whether it was an artist.”