An exhibition featuring original photos from Hunter S Thompson is bound to be popular. Just as the accompanying limited edition tome, which serves as a visual biography covering his work and life, will be coveted by many. Gonzo, with a limited print-run of only 3,000, is a larger-than-life, boldly graphic exploration of the life and work of Hunter S Thompson. The small exhibition of his photographs, on at Michael Hoppen Gallery in London earlier in the year, was a great success for the gallery and received much press because, well, it is Hunter S Thompson. His status as cult icon cannot be disputed and his life and writing are put on a towering pedestal by fans of Rolling Stone, Fear and Loathing, etc. The mystery and intrigue surrounding his life and character, that he himself has created, exudes this image of “living the dream” – being sent to exotic locations on assignment only to take copious amounts of drugs while being involved in much debauchery and still coming up with incredible writing. Gonzo pays tribute to his envied, eccentric existence.
The introduction to the book, reading like a tribute to his life, is written by Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The remaining pages read as a chronological order of Thompson’s professional life, starting with his first role, in the US Air Force. Not surprisingly his stint as a sports editor of the base newspaper was short-lived. An official news release, sent out after one of his crazed stunts, describes him as “an apparently uncontrollable iconoclast” and “totally unclassifiable”. Quite accurate descriptions, as it turns out.
Through the pages, and the gorgeously printed photography, surprisingly enough most taken by Thompson himself, we begin to see his ascent/descent into what we know as the later years of Thompson’s life – the drugs, the outrageous antics, the celebrity status. Which was exactly what he was after, “Life has improved immeasurably since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously,” he writes in 1962. Images documenting the project that was to be his first widely recognised book, Hell’s Angels, are reproduced here along with some of the original marks on contact sheets. So, too, are the Fear and Loathing projects, appearing as surreal as they purportedly happened, with original hand-written notes and posters from the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs convention he went to Las Vegas to “report” on.
Towards the end of the book, Thompson is quoted as saying, “Somehow the author has become larger than the writing. And it sucks.” Almost providing us with the reasons why he chose to take his own life, two years ago. But go out with a bang he did. In the last spread of the book we see the cannon/monument, taller than the Statue of Liberty, in which his ashes were shot out over his land – “It never got weird enough for me.”