When I lived in London almost a decade ago (almost a decade! goodness, time flies, as the cliché goes), I used to work about five minutes from the Royal Academy… but I could probably count the number of times I visited on one hand. I certainly never paid much heed to the place, only ever really dropping in to buy cards, the occasional poster or two, from the RA Shop. So you can imagine my surprise to find myself there within minutes of stepping off the train on my day trip to the capital that sunny day in July.
Was it a homing pigeon-like instinct? I stood beneath its entrance arches and stared into the courtyard and at the imposing building ahead of me. In an instant, I felt as though I was there again on my lunch break, and I wondered if I needed any stationery. It was very odd indeed. And then I realised that I’d never really noticed the amazing detail on the domes above me – I was still frozen in the archway – all those years ago. It was like seeing the Royal Academy for the first time, in a way. I do love that feeling of discovery, and I probably spent more than 15 minutes wandering around outside the building before finally deciding to head inside.
The Academy was showing a collection of Dennis Hopper’s photography in an exhibition entitled The Lost Album, photographs he had taken in the Sixties, featuring a ‘few’ famous faces and friends, including Andy Warhol, Jane Fonda, and Paul Newman. I wandered around the exhibition for quite some time, pondering the portraits, but mostly thinking about what it must have been like in those days of oftentimes turbulent social and political change; the Civil Rights movement was something that Hopper had followed and captured, too. And then, of course, I wondered about what camera he had used – did he use the same one for all those years? Which brand of camera did he use? How did he get into photography? Did Hopper prefer taking portraits of his buddies or did he find more satisfaction in being out there in the street, documenting the decade and its myriad events. It was a thought-provoking way to while away an hour or so, before heading back out to the sunny streets of old London town.