I Woke Up Thinking About Dennis Hopper

You’re Like Me!

Josh Rose
5 min readApr 12

Dennis Hopper got to know James Dean on the set of Rebel Without A Cause. It began a short but rich relationship between the two, with Dean, in fact, more in the mentor role. It’s weird to think about the relationship that way, as James Dean will forever remain the frozen picture of youth and Dennis Hopper the quintessentially grizzled opposite. But in 1955, James Dean was 24 and Hopper only 18, just starting out. To Hopper, Dean was a whole chapter of talent ahead of him. And incredible at that.

I’ve always related to Dennis Hopper. The subversive. A guy who had a bit of an issue with authority and wasn’t afraid to burn bridges at any level. I can see what he saw in Dean — an overwhelming natural talent. I’ve been drawn to that in my life, too. But inviting extreme talent into your life can also drive you a little crazy. Most people choose to be number one, if they can. When you hang out with Jack Nicholson, Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and the Fondas, I imagine you never feel entirely grown-up. And also always slightly at the edge.

Hopper was also completely and utterly dedicated to the creative life. A love of painting, acting, poetry and photography. It was his entire goal to make a life for himself that wasn’t corporate and that allowed him a certain freedom, on the edge, outside mainstream demands. One of the few artists of a field able to be more “artist” than “field.” Much of it was in the way he lived.

At one point, Hopper started getting into photography and Dean had some advice for him. Dean said: “If you’re going to take pictures, don’t crop them.” Hopper said ‘Why not?’ Dean said. “Because you’re probably going to want to direct films someday, and you can’t crop film, so learn how to frame full-frame, full negative.”

And Hopper, who became quite a good photographer, never cropped his photos after that.

I got the same lecture from Mary Ellen Mark, but not because I had expressed a desire to make films. This came much later. But because she thought it was simply idiotic to crop photographs. “Why don’t you just shoot medium format?!” She demanded, after seeing an image I’d cropped into a square. She was right, of course.

A-Crop-Alypse Now

Josh Rose

Filmmaker, photographer, artist and writer. Writing about creator life and observations on culture. Tips very very much appreciated: https://ko-fi.com/joshsrose