PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

In Dreams: Reviewed by Zach Stieneker


Book Review In Dreams Photographs by Dennis Hopper Reviewed by Zach Stieneker People are the primary subjects of In Dreams, and the cast of characters extends far beyond Hopper’s family. These images hold a celebratory spirit that seems in contrast with the melancholic character of the book’s title and the images of Hopper’s family, but ultimately testifies to the way nostalgia can tightly border grieving.

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT577
In Dreams. By Dennis Hopper.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT577
In Dreams  
Photographs by Dennis Hopper

Damiani, Italy, 2019. In English. 140 pp., 97 illustrations, 9¼x8".

There’s a man in a black leather jacket turning toward a stereo; there’s the click of the play button; there’s the disembodied strum of an acoustic guitar. And then there’s Roy Orbison’s voice, crooning “In Dreams” as the man in the black leather jacket silently sings along, his gleaming eyes betraying the forlorn gaze of someone staring more inward than outward.

The scene is from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), and the man is Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper. It represents one of the many iconic performances that famously link Hopper’s name to Hollywood. Although his work as a visual artist and photographer is lesser known, a line of books assembled from Hopper’s photographic archive, edited and designed by Michael Schmelling, testifies to the late actor’s talent in the medium. The latest, In Dreams, is conceptualized as a throughline, an effort to “connect his roles as photographer, husband, and actor” through a series of images made between 1961 and 1967.

Biker Couple, 1961. By Dennis Hopper.

This period, concurrent with a lull in Hopper’s acting career, entails the full extent of his photographic output. His abandonment of photography was as wholehearted as the fervor with which he practiced it. “I was trying to forget…” Hopper confessed in interview, “[t]he photographs represented failure to me. A painful parting from Marin (daughter) and Brooke (ex-wife), my art collection, the house that I lived in and the life that I had known for those eight years.”

That the book’s title, In Dreams, refers specifically to the Orbison ballad that entrances Frank Booth rather than the general realm of the phantasmagorical becomes particularly significant in light of Hopper’s words. In its final verses, the song transmits a similar sense of melancholia:

But just before the dawn, I awake and find you gone
I can't help it, I can't help it, if I cry
I remember that you said goodbye

It's too bad that all these things
Can only happen in my dreams
Only in dreams, in beautiful dreams

If the notion of dreams typically invokes the fantastical and enigmatic, this collection of images then resides on a different (though sometimes overlapping) plane. Dreams here are memories, hazy relics of a lost love, yearnings for a halcyon past.

Waiting for Dailies, 1961–67. By Dennis Hopper.

The book opens with an image that encapsulates this dynamic. It shows two hands –– one small, one large –– hovering above a puddle, index fingers outstretched and pointing. The hands belong to Hopper’s daughter Marin and his ex-wife, Brooke Hayward. Joined in the search for tiny fascinations, a feeling of intimate togetherness emanates from the photograph. Hopper’s presence as he crouches alongside his family feels implicit. There’s a unity that we know will not hold –– that may already be crumbling –– and so, the image becomes an emblem of Hopper’s lost, beautiful dream.

Girl in Rear-view Mirror, 1961–67. By Dennis Hopper.
David Hemmings with Lips, 1961–67. By Dennis Hopper.
We are only able to see Marin and Brooke in this photograph through their hands –– an elusiveness that they maintain throughout the collection. The only other photograph of Marin depicts her feet pressed against the back of a car seat; we see her metonymically. Brooke, meanwhile, returns as a weary grocery shopper, a small photograph in an oval frame, a model in a backyard photoshoot, and an out-of-focus lover. In none of these images, however, does she seem to concede herself to the camera –– rather, she is figured with a certain evasiveness. Such unknowability reflects the fogging and fracturing that experiences undergo as they become increasingly distant memories. They can always be recalled, but never in the completeness of the moments from which the photographs were extracted.

People are the primary subjects of In Dreams, and the cast of characters extends far beyond Hopper’s family. Depicting a pantheon of 1960s notability, the book reads in part as a catalog of the actor’s celebrity milieu. These images hold a celebratory spirit that seems incongruent with the melancholic character of the book’s title and the images of Hopper’s family, but ultimately testifies to the way nostalgia can tightly border grieving.

In Dreams is a portrait of a phase in Dennis Hopper’s life. It’s one very particular phase in one very particular life. Its emotional contours, however, may not be so particular. Lost painfully or peacefully, it’s a poignant reminder that each completed phase of our lives will become another of our beautiful dreams.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Jane Fonda (with garter), 1965. By Dennis Hopper.


Zach Stieneker holds a BA in English and Spanish from Emory University. Following graduation, he spent several months continuing his study of photography in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

No comments:

Post a Comment