Proud To Be American

I have a confession to make, I am generally not a fan of contemporary photography. The problem is, with photography, you are capturing a moment in time exactly how it happened which is the fundamental difference between photography and other mediums such as painting where this kind of realism is not possible. But now, thanks to photoshop, colors are brighter, waistlines are tinier, pores are smaller, and reality slowly becomes a thing of the past. Which is why for me personally, the newest exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau of vintage photographs from the 1960’s by Dennis Hopper was by far the best damn photography exhibition I have seen in a long time; real people portrayed with searing honesty giving the viewer an intimate look into the atmosphere of an era.

The exhibition is titled “The Lost Album” because it shows over 400 vintage photographs taken by Dennis Hopper in the 1960’s which were tucked away in five crates and forgotten until they were discovered after his death in 2010. Walking into the exhibit, the viewer is not immediately drawn to one particular photograph but rather walks along the wall looking at each small plate (most are 24 x 16 cm) mounted on cardboard without a glass frame and attached directly to the wall. The photos appear at first like an old family photo album one might find in their grandparents basement showing signs of typical wear and tear – frayed edges, scratches and fingerprints. But as you begin to read the labels and start noticing American icons such as Paul Newman and James Brown, you realize that these are definitely not your great aunt Marge’s photos.

From Studio 54 to Tijuana

Browsing through photos of Andy Warhol hanging out in his factory in New York, Robert Rauschenberg sticking out his tongue at the camera, and even Roy Lichtenstein himself sitting on the floor in worn out Chuck Taylor’s – I begin to realize just how invested Hopper was in the cultural scene of the 1960’s. “I photographed the artists of the 1960’s who brought about change,” said Hopper in 2001. “Their work will be a metaphor for the art of the future.” The figures are legendary but still relatable, the subjects ranging from effortless glamor to real-life struggles of the common man. Subjects range from actors, artists, and musicians to hippies, bikers, and everyday people in places like Mexico City and the streets of Harlem.

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