Who was Dennis Hopper? (1936-2010)

This past weekend the iconic actor and member of the counter culture Dennis Hopper passed away. In 2006, Robert Weingarten had the opportunity to work with Hopper. Weingarten, a California based photographer interested in the line between biography and portraiture asks his famous subjects, “What makes you who you are?” Weingarten proposes that “who we are,” is not the physical self that changes over time, but our passions, mottos we live by, memories, experiences, and contributions. 

The resulting image, part of the museum's Photographic History Collection, is a translucent composite made with Weingarten’s digital photographs.

Dennis Hopper by Robert Weingarten 

The images are based on the list Hopper made describing himself, which acknowledges his influence on American culture and his personal passions.

  • The director’s chair with his name on it as a reference to the movies he has directed.
  • The mural based on Hopper’s photograph, “Double Standard” and his camera indicate his work as a photographer.
  • The painting of the woman is one made by Hopper, the artist.
  • The Andy Warhol painting of Mao references his modern art collection. The two bullet holes in the painting were created when he “shot Mao” during a drug induced rage.
  • There are his golf clubs and a cigar.
  • And, of course, the iconic motorcycle, “Easy Rider.”

Over the next few weeks we will see many obituaries and remembrances written by others. Weingarten’s photograph gives us Hopper’s last word on how he defined himself.

Shannon Perich is Associate Curator for the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History.