Picture Appreciation: Selma, Alabama by Dennis Hopper

This Dream That Will Never Go Away

Previously I honored a portrait of Dennis Hopper taken by Anton Corbijn. Sometime later, I was perusing second-hand photograph books when I encountered a book by the name of Pictures 1961-1967 from none other than Dennis Hopper. I didn’t know that Hopper was a noted photographer himself. I would like to say that I have this in my collection, but unfortunately this second-hand book was worth more than all my photography books combined. There is only a limited amount of copies from this specific collection, and though I bid on it, I didn’t even come close to half of what it was worth. Instead I have been considering buying the more affordable ones online- such as Drugstore Camera. He also made a very interesting one called Colors, Polaroids, a collection of pictures of LA gang graffiti, made before Hopper would direct the police drama Colors. None the less I thought that for my second Picture Appreciation entry, to devote it to one of the pictures made by Hopper. There was a lot to choose from, I could have gone with one of his celebrity portraits or the ones he made in Taos in the height of his hippie days, but considering current events I thought it would be appropriate to go with one of the pictures he made in the infamous civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by the Martin Luther King.
Before I delve into the greatness of this picture, let’s first address the senseless tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville and why it relates to this picture. A madman, presumably a 20 year old man, ran his car into a group of protesters, killing one, wounding dozens. There were two groups of protesters that day, the victim, a 32 year old woman, was part of a counter protest against a White-power rally- consisting of an assemblage of neo-nazi’s, white supremacists and the extreme alt-right. Whether they like it or not, her murderer was part of this group. The announcement was of this rally was worrisome enough. For many this indicated a new America. We always knew they were there, this type of hatred never dies. It’s always there, waiting for the right time. But they never seemed this present before, it’s almost as if they feel safe enough to come out. Now I’m not trying to imply that Donald Trump is a white-supremacists- though after reading his biography, one could hardly deny that he doesn’t have any racist tendencies- but it is telling that David Duke, the head of the KKK- said that they wanted fulfill Donald Trump’s promises to America. They felt emboldened by Trump’s promise, they want that wall, they want more aggressive rhetoric against cosmopolitans, foreigners and especially Muslims. You can’t blame Trump for Duke’s his support of him, but you can blame Trump for not even having the decency to denounce the hate-groups that inspired this type of violence. Instead, Trump called out hatred ”on all sides”, prompting angry denunciation from many of his republican peers. The question is why did he not even name these specific hate-groups? I don’t think he supports them, but maybe he was advised not to name them- probably by Steve Bannon, who probably does have more than an inkling of sympathy for these protesters or the ghoulish Steven Miller- or perhaps Trump was merely riffing and in his own mind, he thought he was being reasonable. Whatever the reason, it sets a dangerous precedent, giving the protesters the facade of equality in this debate. Free Speech or not, we have to draw a line on evil. These hate-groups have the right to speak their mind, but the establishment should call them out and let the world know that they don’t belong with them.
Over fifty years ago, the tensions were even greater, white-supremacy was acceptable in many parts of the country. You had politicians openly supporting segregation, there was violence similar to its brutality in Charlottesville on a regular bases. The march to equality was heading in the right direction, the president was maneuvering a civil-rights act in congress. But it was not over and in fact, was never really over. There would be victories but blood would continue to spill. That’s the thing about civil-rights: it’s never really over, you gotta keep fighting for it, there will always be groups, small or big, that are willing to take away your freedom.
On 1965, we would see one of the most famous civil-rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Thousands of people would march for that dream of America, to that idea that ‘all men are created equal.’ A young 28- year old by the name of Dennis Hopper was there to take pictures. And while there are certainly more lively pictures made during its three part marches, there is something special about this picture about this lone black-man sitting here, the background a vast empty field and a big house. You know this is a man that regularly endured abuse, that lived most in a life where he was never equal to his white peers. The first thing you see is the vast empty background, the house, then to the side the lone black man. In this empty patch of land should be his home, but America would not build it for him. Perhaps this man accepted his place, stopped dreaming that things would ever be different. Maybe he thought to himself that these marches wouldn’t change anything, no matter what bills would pass, the nature of America would always be the same. You can’t really tell from the picture, these are all assumptions. But there’s beauty in the picture of a lone man sitting there, expressionless with such a vast background. It’s the individual and desolation. It’s simplest of compositions but always beautifully effective.
These images remind us that despite the tragedies of yesterday and the tragedies to come, that despite it all, we did make progress in the world. The marchers of Selma were Americans from all over the country, both white and black, sharing the same dream, this dream that will never go away. From all over the world, you can see evidence of this. There’s good people out there, there’s so many good people out there. These people fight for people they have barely anything in common with, against laws that doesn’t even influence them. Even if the world seems to go in the wrong direction, we must remember that there will always be people who are willing to go out there and risk their lives, all to keep this dream alive.
And that there is always room for more dreamers out there…



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