Monthly Archives: May 2010
Dennis Hopper, 1936 – 2010
Paul Newman, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Paul Newman, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

I was a compulsive shooter back then. I was very shy, and it was a lot easier for me to communicate if I had a camera between me and other people.

-Dennis Hopper

Paris Woman, 1994 © Dennis Hopper

Paris Woman, 1994 © Dennis Hopper

I had been taking photographs because I hoped to be able to direct movies. That’s why I never cropped any of the photographs; they are all full-frame.

-Dennis Hopper

Jane Fonda, 1967 © Dennis Hopper

Jane Fonda, 1967 © Dennis Hopper

Like all artists I want to cheat death a little and contribute something to the next generation.

-Dennis Hopper

Bill Cosby (Chateau Marmont), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Bill Cosby (Chateau Marmont), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

… but I was trying to go another way from the movie business. And I was taking pictures in black-and-white. Everyone else was using color. I was using Tri-X because I could shoot at night, and get shots by holding it real still, with just streetlights and so on. So these were things that I was playing with. But at the same time, a lot of my ideas were glamour ideas, because I wanted people to look good. So my portraits were about them in natural light, looking good, and looking in some way that had something to do with the reality of their world.

-Dennis Hopper

Jefferson Airplane, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Jefferson Airplane, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough. I never felt I played the great part. I never felt that I directed the great movie. And I can`t say that it`s anybody`s fault but my own.

-Dennis Hopper

Robert Rauschenberg, 1966 © Dennis Hopper

Robert Rauschenberg, 1966 © Dennis Hopper

You know, the history of California art doesn’t start until about 1961, and that’s when these photographs start. I mean, we have no history out here.

-Dennis Hopper

Brian Jones, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Brian Jones, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Most of the guys who were heavy on drugs and stuff — the rockers, and all that — we’re all out playing golf and we’re all sober. It is weird.

-Dennis Hopper

Tuesday Weld, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Tuesday Weld, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

The high points have not been that many, but I’m a compulsive creator so I don’t think of the children first, I think of the work. Let’s see, I guess, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, a couple of photographs here, a couple of paintings . . . those are the things that I would be proud of and yet they ’re so minimal in this vast body of crap — most of the 150 films I’ve been in — this river of shit that I’ve tried to make gold out of. Very honestly.

-Dennis Hopper

Jean Tinguely, 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Jean Tinguely, 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Then I had Easy Rider, and I couldn’t get another movie, so I lived in Mexico City for a couple of years. I lived in Paris for a couple of years. I didn’t take any photographs, and then I went to Japan and saw a Nikon used. I bought it, and I just started, like an alcoholic. I shot 300 rolls of film. That was the beginning of me starting again, and then I went digital.

-Dennis Hopper

Biker Couple, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

Biker Couple, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

I’d love to be in a Coen Brothers film, or something by Curtis Hanson — did you see 8 Mile? a terrific little movie — but I’ve never worked for Lucas or Spielberg. You could name most of the directors in Hollywood I’ve never worked for. I am not offered any of the roles that Jack Nicholson gets or Warren Beatty gets, or any of these people get, and never have been and never will. So when you ask me about playing villains and would I like to play other things, I think, God, I’m just lucky if I get a villain part every once in a while.

-Dennis Hopper

Biker, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

Biker, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

I think of that with my photographs. I think of them as ‘found’ paintings because I don’t crop them, I don’t manipulate them or anything. So they’re like ‘found’ objects to me.

-Dennis Hopper

Bruce Conner (in tub), Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Marshall, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Bruce Conner (in tub), Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Marshall, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

When it first started, it was inferior and the inks weren’t archival. As soon as the inks became archival, I went digital. To me, it’s like the difference between developing something in chemical or being able to spray the light. It’s like painting with light, and the computer is reading the light. When a digital photograph looks right, it looks like it was painted.

-Dennis Hopper

Claes Oldenburg (Portrait with Cake Slices), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Claes Oldenburg (Portrait with Cake Slices), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

I started out shooting flat, on walls, so that it had no depth of field, because I was being photographed all the time as an actor. And if you notice, there aren’t a lot of photographs [in the show] of actors — Dean Stockwell, Paul Newman. I thought I was an imposition to the actors who were being photographed all the time. I really wanted the flat-on-painter kind of surface. I did that for a long time. Then the artists. I really started taking photographs of artists. They wanted me to take photographs. They wanted posters and things. I was hanging out with them. I photographed the ones I thought were going to make it. I wasn’t really working as an actor during this period, and I thought, Well, if I’m not going to be able to work as an actor, I might as well be able make something that’s going to be credible. So I took photographs of Martin Luther King and Selma, Montgomery, as history, and selecting artists that I thought would make it. I met most of the Pop artists before they ever had shows.

-Dennis Hopper

Andy Warhol and members of the Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga & Jack Smith), 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Andy Warhol and members of the Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga & Jack Smith), 1963 © Dennis Hopper

I didn’t use a light meter; I just read the light off my hands. So the light varies, and there are some dark images. Also, I’m sort of a nervous person with the camera, so I will just shoot arbitrarily until I can focus and compose something, and then I make a shot. So generally, in those proof sheets, there are only three or four really concentrated efforts to take a photograph. It’s not like a professional kind of person who sets it up so every photograph looks really cool.

-Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Well, I was a compulsive creator, so it became my creative outlet. I was using Tri-X film — which nobody else was using at the time — because I wanted to get as much natural light as possible and be able to shoot everything in natural light without flashes. I was a product of the movie business …

-Dennis Hopper

Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

I was doing something that I thought could have some impact someday. In many ways, it’s really these photographs that kept me going creatively.

-Dennis Hopper

Self-portrait at porn stand, 1962, © Dennis Hopper

Self-portrait at porn stand, 1962, © Dennis Hopper

I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City and my grandparents were wheat farmers. I thought painting, acting, directing and photography were all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way. And I have had some fun. It’s not been a bad life.

-Dennis Hopper


Shanghai | The Bund

Never one for landscapes, cityscapes or even city at night shots, I did manage to get lucky with this shot in Shanghai about a block away from The Bund.

The night’s drizzle helped make the city lights luminous. Held on a windowsill and exposure was about a half second.

The Bund, Shanghai, shot with Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

The Bund, Shanghai, shot with Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim


Philip Jones Griffiths | England, 1964
ENGLAND—Teenagers at a jazz festival, 1964. © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

ENGLAND—Teenagers at a jazz festival, 1964. © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

Even if not a single picture is never published, they exist. And that means that we are recording the history of the human race. If that’s all your doing, it still a very very worth while profession to be involved in.

-Philip Jones Griffiths


Portraits | My Family

Years ago–when I had hair–my family decided to get a group portrait taken during Christmas. We went to my friend Chan’s studio and took some standard photos. Then I made them take a portrait for me, one that I would definitely hang onto my wall. That was a long time ago. My sisters kids are now graduating from high school.

My mom still hates this shot.

The clan

The clan


Ed Colver | Bad Religion

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Ed Colver at a party in The Brewery in Los Angeles a few years ago. He is a cool old timer with tons of stories. At the time, he was driving a great hearse with a Dodge 400 in it and his business cards were blank bereavement cards for funeral homes.

I asked him about this iconic photo which has always been one of the great hardcore album covers and posters. He said he took this shot handheld at night outside of a show in LA, using only the light from a hot dog vendor cart. He never uses a light meter, has never used one and has such a refined eye that he can judge the light and get the exposure right every time. Even in the studio.

Check out his work and buy his book.

Bad_Religion_'80-'85 © Ed Colver

Bad_Religion_'80-'85 © Ed Colver


Portrait | Jon T. Howard

I was hired by a record company to shoot the album cover for Jon T. Howard in Los Angeles and we started the day off with some portraits in a friend’s house in Reseda. Never one for the studio or set up shots even though that’s where you earn bigger money, the shots with the strobes and my assistant were flat and dead and lifeless.

It was only at the end of the day when we moved to the street and I shot on the street with natural light that things began to groove. Being on my feet, moving fast with little gear is my comfort zone. It was a good time and shooting that luscious Fuji NPZ 800 pulled a stop and a half is always a joy.

That alley is the last great urban alley in downtown Los Angeles and it has been featured in hundreds of shows and films. I’ve shot there numerous times but this day, there was literally shit on the brick walls. Who takes time to smear their shit on a wall? The stench was powerful. Jon T. was a trooper for taking it as my assistant refused to even step off the sidewalk to enter the alley.

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm lens, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm lens, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm lens, Fuji NPZ 800 © Doug Kim

Jon T. Howard, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm lens, Fuji NPZ 800 © Doug Kim


Ellen von Unwerth | Jean Seberg

For more than twenty-five years, Ellen Von Unwerth has celebrated movies through her fashion photography. Her photographs are generally straightforward, without special effects of the allusion to a more complicated narrative; she simply uses characters from noted films as the protagonists of her fashion essays, such as the piece for the October 1990 issue of Vogue (available here, wm) in which models are used to reincarnate Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave counterculture film Breathless (1959). Von Unwerth’s fashion essay concentrates on the breezy life of the doomed lovers as they tool around Paris riding a motor scooter, smoke at cafés, and snuggle in bed. Von Unwerth exploits readers’ identification with the characters in the film, especially the generation that came of age in the 1960s, when European culture and bohemian antiestablishment lifestyle were the vogue. More specifically, the New Wave French films radically changed the way movies were made. They were consonant with the disjunctive and nonlinear literature of the time. Their off-beat characters (often based on American movie gangsters) and the details of their behavior and dress helped create an identity for members of the American couterculture.

-Susan Kismaric & Eva Respini, Fashioning Fiction

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth


Portrait | Nicky Katt

A few years ago, I got a great assignment from Metro.Pop Magazine in Los Angeles. The job was to shoot Nicky Katt in Hollywood and the art direction I received was to just “show up and do what you do.” It’s rare to get that kind of freedom shooting editorial, especially since I am a black and white, natural light shooter.

And plus I knew Nicky Katt’s work. It was only after recently talking to a friend about him that I realized Nicky is a cinemaphile’s actor. You really have to be a nerd about American cinema to know who he is. I know that he’s been on TV but I’ve always known him for his small but memorable roles in independent films. Think about it. You might know him as:

  • the smart ass hit man in The Limey
  • the Nazi in a 50s greaser uniform in Dazed and Confused
  • the guy with the tongue boil in Planet Terror
  • one of them cops in Insomnia
  • the rocker dude in the van in School of Rock
  • the tough in the bar inSecondhand Lions
  • the cynical tough in SubUria

I showed up at the house on Fairfax and we got along instantly because we somehow started chatting about Monte Hellman films. It turns out Nicky was collaborating with Monte on a screenplay. Much to the annoyance of the writer, we wouldn’t stop talking about Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter.

The challenge for this shoot was the fact that Nicky was obsessed with Sam Peckinpah and recently saw this interview with him where he wore his sunglasses the entire time. So I sat Nicky in this big chair by the fireplace with the dog and his sunglasses and his glass of bourbon and I started taking meter readings. The room was so dark that I had to push my meager 400 speed film to 1600 just to shoot wide open. I couldn’t even focus as the viewfinder for the Mamiya is pretty dark. I literally had to lock in on the wall of the fireplace behind him and walk my camera backwards to put him in the focal plane.

After suffering some anxiety about pushing my film three stops and my inability to focus, I picked up my film a couple of days later from the lab and it all turned out fine. Not stellar images but I really enjoyed that afternoon.

Nicky Katt, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim


Akira Kurosawa | Group Compositions in Seven Samurai

Kurosawa was one of the 20th century’s master auteurs and perhaps my favorite director. His pairing with Toshiro Mifune over 16 films constitute one of the, if not the, most productive actor-director collaboration in the history of cinema. And the greatest of these is Seven Samurai, one of the best films ever made and one that I continually revisit.

Kurosawa said he studied the master as often as he could, meaning John Ford. And though he said this in reference to Ford’s composition and framing, I believe that he far surpassed Ford in this respect. Kurosawa’s compositions imbue his stories with such power and dynamism that even his noirs or domestic scenes seem gigantic.

All of his films contain his usual bravura compositions, but it is with his ensemble films like Seven Samurai and High and Low that you get to see Kurosawa craft such classic fluid group compositions, sometimes composed of dozens of actors, never crowded or confusing, always clear and focused, the menagerie acting like a visual chorus.

Though he was more known for his telephoto lens work, Seven Samurai marks the transition point where Kurosawa moves away from the wide angle lens in favor of the foreshortening and flattening effect of the long lens. This film then has some amazing cinematography by the great Asakazu Nakai using both lenses. Kurosawa and Nakai show their complete mastery of the dynamic wide-angle compositions as the camera is not locked down but moves from one composition to another, all so breathtaking that they form a dynamic texture that propels the narrative over three hours.

If you’ve never seen this movie, watch as each character progresses and reacts and moves in the scene as individuals choreographed in these organic group portraits. This is throwaway virtuoso filmmaking at it’s best. Throwaway because the point of a scene or a shot is never the camera or the composition but always the characters and the drama. Everything is controlled, deliberate and manufactured to be in service of the story.

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.

-Martin Scorsese

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In this three image sequence below, the still frames are taken from the scene where the samurai meet the village patriarch for the first time. There were three shots of incredibly complexity. Pans and dolly moves around the room were blocked so skillfully that no actor’s face was ever occluded, the camera moving from perfect composition to perfect composition, each actor facing a different direction, each face and pose in character, each character processing the conversation a different way.

This is what makes Kurosawa a master. These complex, staged moves are barely noticeable to the viewer, the camera never intrudes on the story, the virtuoso hand never makes itself felt.

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

You see an absolutely brilliant film later, as an adult, and you walk out thinking about what to have for dinner. Whereas something like Jaws winds up having a huge effect on me. If only my parents had been taking me to Kurosawa films when I was eight, but no.

-Ann Patchett

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Good Westerns are liked by everyone. Since humans are weak, they want to see good people and great heroes. Westerns have been done over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved. I have learned much from this grammar of the Western.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Being a kid growing up with Kurosawa films and watching Sergio Leone movies just made me love what it could do to you, and how it could influence you – make you dream.

-Antoine Fuqua

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Man is a genius when he is dreaming.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In a mad world, only the mad are sane.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied, … That’s why they can keep on working. I’ve been able to work for so long because I think next time, I’ll make something good.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In all my films, there`s three or maybe four minutes of real cinema.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954