It’s all in the timing.
The past three events have proven it… beyond a shadow..
All will be revealed… as it was for me.
The first, set the scene at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens. Mayfair was glazed in honey-hued sunshine, as I made my way to a private viewing of ‘The Lost Album’, an exhibiton of work by the late, great, actor, filmmaker, artist and photgrapher, Dennis Hopper.
I approached the distinctive, weather-mottled structure, distinctly-etched into the cognitive history of Arts…its dappled-grey exterior punctuated by billowing banners, raised aloft in celebration of the creative wonders within. Somewhat awash with excitement, I entered. Gentle scents of artisanal treats from ‘Atelier’, the RA cafe, wafted invitingly, roundabout me. Monochromatic Hopper-themed images emblazoned the space and I was already lost in them.
Ascending the wealth-of-winding staircase to the ‘Senate Room’, was, I mused, somewhat akin to being Scarlett O’Hara, swept up into the strapping arms of Rhett Butler and being swung across the threshold with sheer, Southern swagger! The highly-decorative ceilings, expansive windows and caramel-coloured, well-walked, wooden flooring, momentarily served to fuel my imaginings, but passionately-delivered and hugely informative pre-exhibiton talks soon brought me back into the room, with an ever-more piqued desire to discover what lay behind a new door, to the next.
That which ensued was a rhythmic chorus of movement, of guests from all walks of life. From the designer-clad to the street-stylers, to the suited-and-booted and beyond…a contemporary collection of attendees quickly became the, unknown, precursor and parallel, to the breadth of Hopper’s subject matter. In genteel clusters, they transitioned through an antechamber, where an expressive quote from the man, himself, distils the life-giving inspiration which the photographs had given to him. Standing to read and re-read, in order to familiarise myself with his ‘voice’, the human satellites had dwindled, only to have reformed, face-to-face, with encased black-and-white stills, along three sides of the perimeter of Room 1, lunch-queue-like, as if to devour the prints whole! The counter-cultural undercurrent running through the exhibiton, also seemed to be running through my veins, to the extent that I bypassed the following space and the viewing gallery and began my journey in the final room! As others observed, I perched upon banquettes in the midst of the floor and copied more of Dennis Hopper’s words, echoed upon the walls… In so doing, I began to assimilate the sense of freedom with which Hopper captured everything he saw.
From the quiet intimacy of boudoir shots, taken in L.A., to the ebullient evangelist series, caught, mid-sermon, so that you could almost hear the preaching… From gowned hippies at flower-power festivals, to Hells Angels, at rest and play, to the effortless cool of the ‘Fab Four of Art’, Warhol, Geldzahler, Hockney and Goodman…From ‘Soul Brother Number 1’, Mr James Brown, being fêted outside his Lear jet, to the picture-perfect Paul Newman, a living canvas upon which are cast charcoal shadows of wire and foliage… From the most visceral bullfighting in Mexico, to the stark irony of a welcome which warns you to ‘Keep Out’, in race-hate ravaged Montgomery, Alabama… to the power and poignancy of Martin Luther King speaking at Selma, no stone seems left unturned, no issue too raw, through which to manifest the truth of life and times in Dennis Hopper’s 60’s. Even the narrative of such minutiae as blistering paint and torn gauze, seem to represent revelatory realities behind the glamour of Hollywood and an increasing intolerance, bleeding through the thin veil of society. All the while, the intensity and detail are juxtaposed by an expansive, audiovisual shangri-la, of a road-scene from the co-created classic, ‘Easy Rider’….the constant stream, of which, engulfs you and baits your curiosity, as to Hopper’s unique vista, developed on-screen.
No wonder, then, that when invited to the B.F.I Southbank, to attend a private showing of the seminal indie-archetype, as part of the ‘Icon of Oblivion’ season, I was only too pleased to rsvp, without hesitation, and appease my inquisitiveness!
Second scene set, it was lights, camera, action in a robustly, modern venue, with a Southbank wrap-around…Yet this was no ordinary cinema… This was a veritable palace, doused in ruby-red, velvet curtains, with plush, matching chairs (the pile of which somehow moulded, ergonomically to the body, like a warm, cinematic cuddle!)… unobtrusive air-con…spacious legroom, (fantastic for me, being 5’9″..old money for approx 1m 80cm!)… and at 20:45 precisely, an impressive demonstration of sound, vision and performance got underway.
Having heard of, but never seen ‘Easy Rider’, I chose not to delve into research, preferring to rely on my R.A experience for a creative template. However, from the opening moments of South American drawl, to a dashing Peter Fonda (‘Wyatt’) in leathers and a hippie Hopper (‘Billy’), strands of Mexico, motorbiking and marginalised members of society, started to emerge.
A stream of consciousness unfurled. From Downtown L.A., wide-angled highway scenes on Harley Davidsons, begat pacy cut-aways, themselves, spliced with extreme-close-ups of twigs, only to be followed by contrasting, mountainous backdrops, which, in turn, were artistically peppered with silhouetted figures of our protagonists and an enigmatic hitchhiker, whom they had picked up, en route to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras!
The spectre of automation, hovering over tradition, was also accutely parallelled in a scene which sees Wyatt and Billy ride into a farm and park their bikes in a barn in the background, whereupon they clean their tyres, with a farrier/ farmhand, in the foreground, tending to horseshoes. Modernity and the notion of progress, seem to be replacing heritage, as swiftly as the Harleys.
Multi-sensory statements including the changing faces of fashion, music and spirituality, are vividly presented. Nothing is contrived. The script is sparsely written, to allow for its multi-faceted, sociopolitical meanings to deeply penetrate the psyche. With an energy of unadulterated art-in-response, undaunted by popular opinion and a short-sharp-shock of an ending, ‘Easy Rider’ struck me with extreme profoundity and was brilliantly complemented by the truly incredible ‘Lost Album’ exhibition.
In fact, it is the final ‘view-from-above’ shot, which would resonate even further with me, at the closing scene of my event-trilogy, that the ‘Photographers v Prostate Cancer’ private viewing and silent auction, in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, held at ‘The Michael Hoppen Gallery’, in the heart of Chelsea.
The late Dennis Hopper lost his battle against prostate cancer in 2010, as did my Father and so, by way of honouring his memory, I sought the chance to cover the evening…and what a moving, optimistic, enjoyable night it was! Photography spanned such genres as portraiture, landscape and reportage…decades, with such names as Hendrix and Yehudi Menuhin encapsulated alongside Keira Knightley….and such amazing photgraphers as Thomas Stanworth, Clive Barda and Rankin.
Hearty addresses were given by Lord Archer, himself a survivor of the male form of cancer and leading prostate surgeon, Professor Roger Kirby, both, of whom, were unrelenting in encouragement of men to proactively pursue GP check-ups, at the first sign of a problem, rather than leave the situation, until it might be too late to treat. Enthusiastic rallying was also made, to bid as much as possible, in order to raise as much as possible, so as to continue the fight against this ruthless disease. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the cause, the bright, white gallery was filled with an air of joy and hope…and by the end of the 3-hour event, an outstanding £17,600 had been raised.
I exited with a sense of peace, joy and exhileration, safe in the knowledge that whilst some, dear, loved ones might have lost their valiant battles against prostate cancer, such cheerful giving-in-action, would help to win the war.
I was then brought, full-circle, to ‘Easy Rider’s’ end camera angle, which finished high up in the sky, as if looking down upon the world…
I somehow felt as if Dennis and my Father were smiling and doing the same…
Many thanks to:-
Simone Stewart at the Royal Academy, Victoria Humphrys at the B.F.I Southbank, Michael Hoppen, Richard Dunkley, Leena Patel, Team Prostate Cancer UK for your kindess and hospitality!
For more information on the above events at the R.A and B.F.I Southbank, organisations and to bid on remaining pictures in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, click the links below!
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EMAIL EXCHANGE FROM LEENA PATEL (PCUK)
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