REVIEW: Dennis Hopper: Colors. The Polaroids
By Jendayi Omowale
Dennis Hopper: Colors. The Polaroids is a collection of the Polaroid pictures of Los Angeles’ graffiti art that Dennis Hopper shot during his filming of the movie, Colors, in 1988. The Polaroids of Colors present the images Hopper took during this period as exquisite contemporary photography that document the textural motifs of the L.A artistic landscape during this period. The underworld of urban landscapes is rendered in an emblematic manner in Dennis Hopper: Colors. The Polaroids.
The gritty authenticity of each Polaroid is energized by the book’s layout: a single Polaroid on each page centered in an ocean of white space outside the Polaroid border; allowing the viewer’s visual sensitivity to be heightened. The artistic decision to frame the already restrictive medium of Polaroids in the stark white of the page give these images a genuine atmospheric claustrophobia that can perpetrate the viewer’s psyche and permit them a true glance inside the world that Dennis Hopper encountered in 1980s L.A. In some instances, the Polaroid-per-page layout is disrupted by foldout pages that turn a figurative paper diptych into a quadriptych that seamlessly showcases certain homogeneous graffiti in one-piece; the methodology enhances Hopper’s photographic eye. Colors. The Polaroids, layered and abstract subject matter, graffiti, presents itself in all environments and situations, as if graffiti is a natural blemish of the Californian blue skies, palm trees, and tropical ambience - a perspective that challenges the way in which we view graffiti: a constructed pictorial evidence of an individual or group’s existence.
Fellow film director, Aaron Rose, writes the accompanying essay, The Unvisual City, titled after a phrase Dennis Hopper uttered himself when describing the cityscape of Los Angeles. The essay is at the end of the book, and is an invaluable addition to the photography of Hopper: he contextualizes the imagery of the Polaroid pictures historically, culturally, and aesthetically. Rose poignantly reflects on the multi-faceted aspects of the series, pointing out the ancient Mesoamerican roots of the graffiti created by Latinx gangs in the area, explaining the geographic segregation and division of Los Angeles areas, and the hidden dialogue between rival gangs in their brash iconography that permeate the walls, and the public workers who try to cover the pigment-colored clash with blocks of monotone paint. He also discusses the effects of using a Polaroid medium in an archival capacity with graffiti art, and touches on how Dennis Hopper adds his own artistry in his consideration of composition, color, and other photographic elements that the original creators of the graffiti likely did not account for in their territorial markings of identity.
Dennis Hopper: Colors. The Polaroids is a brilliant book that illustrates the charged conversational tone of graffiti art, and is an excellent portrayal of the visual genius Hopper had as a filmmaker and photographer. Graffiti is a subject matter that continues to generate interest and debate in contemporary art, and Dennis Hopper’s Polaroids are a perfect reminder of what draws us to this exterior art: poetically scrawled on the walls of the public space, it is both modern and ancient evidence of anonymity in individual and group dynamics - an experience that appeals to the aesthetic sensibilities of the human psyche.