The four hundred or so photographs that form ‘The Lost Album’ were exhibited by Hopper in Texas in 1970 after which they were packed away and forgotten – only being discovered after the actor, director, artist had died. The exhibition at the RA is apparently wonderful but I can’t make it so I have contented myself with the catalogue. And a brilliant document it is too.
Hopper took these photos between 1961 and 1967. There are many of actors, directors and their hangers-on, but there are also many of waifs, strays, hippies, civil rights activists and people who just look interesting. Ed Ruscha is here and there are also photos of gas stations of the kind Ruscha could have taken. The style is hardcore grainy black and white – even static people can find themselves in a blur. It’s almost like Robert Frank came back to do a sequel to The Americans in a slightly less formal style.
In some ways there’s too much here. You’re overwhelmed the first time you look through – perhaps picking out faces you recognise, or nods to stylistic traits that Hopper brought to his later cultural career. You need to go back, zone in on an image or two, and develop your reaction a little more. Multiple viewings are required.
The book is cleverly put together. The photos have not been smartened. They are copies of those prints that had been packed away, frayed edges and all. It’s like listening to Spotify when they haven’t taken the magical LP hiss away.
Hopper stopped taking photographs in 1967 having pointed his camera remorselessly in the years before then. It’s almost annoying that his images are so good given how much he achieved in every other artistic field. But envy is an ugly emotion and these are fantastic images fully deserving of their triumphant rediscovery.