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Therein lies the crux of the two photographers’ differing methods: Frank could convey the maddening and endearing contradictions of America and Americans often in just one image; Hopper’s vision of the nation in the 60s is susceptible to endless fine tuning, shading and amending. Signs of the Times focuses especially on portraits and street scenes, with the former featuring celebrities and avant-garde artists of the time and the latter catching evocative glimpses of cities, streets and the open road. In the former category, the visibly tired and old John Wayne of Hopper’s cowboy photograph appears half-obstructed on the set of a Western, a symbol of times both literally and figuratively past, an icon for a previous age. A nearby image of two young bikers (above) sitting in a diner–aside from calling another American artist Hopper to mind–conveys as succinctly as any other the characteristics of this new America. It’s a place full of beautiful young dreamers, thrill-seekers and trailblazers whose attitude to the past is ironic at best and more often antagonistic.
His portraits of famous artists before they were the canonized Modernists they’ve become today offer the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing what might be construed as America’s last moment at the cutting edge of the international art world. Bruce Conner
, Allan Kaprow
, Allen Ginsberg
, Robert Irwin
, Claes Oldenburg
, Robert Rauschenberg
, Ed Ruscha
, Warhol and others, photographed mostly in Los Angeles and New York, respond playfully and casually to Hopper’s camera. As professional creators of images and manufacturers of moments, they’re always prepared to pose for a fellow artist–as with Warhol hiding behind a flower, Oldenberg posing among his cake slices installation, Conner laughing through handfuls of puzzle pieces or Kaprow assembling a hut of ice bricks
in the desert. Meanwhile, celebrity subjects like Jane Fonda
, Martin Luther King, Ike and Tina Turner, The Grateful Dead and others hint at a cultural climate in which pop and politics became indistinguishable. Frank’s photo of a Hollywood actress
, on the other hand, demonstrates his clever use of selective focus, blurring the starlet in the foreground to hone in on the average Americans in the background.