There’s a strange sort of irony that Hunter S. Thompson was a victim of the same trappings that contributed to the death of his hero, Ernest Hemingway. They were the same things that helped elevate them from writers to icons, especially among other writers. Both Thompson and Hemingway understood image…optics. They understood that what they projected in life was almost as important as what they portrayed in print. The trick is figuring out how you’re not crushed while you’re still alive by the weight of your own myth. After all, to be a legend in death a far sight easier than in life.
And so it comes as little surprise to Thompson fans that the good doctor had an eye for the camera. The man had to see the scenes before he wrote them so vividly. What is interesting is to see how simply his camera’s eye saw these scenes in the coffee table photo book GONZO in comparison to the twisted surreality of his writing. There are vast landscapes captured during his many travels. There are friendly snapshots from his youthful days in New York or Big Sur or Puerto Rico, which also served as the locale of his first novel, The Rum Diaries. They’re good—most of them—but straight. There’s no weirdness, no madness, no fear, no loathing. But that is the stuff of his novels.
Despite the personal character he’d built for himself and the fact that he was a dedicated student of New Journalism that put the reporter in the story he was covering (often at the willful cost of objectivity), Hunter S. Thompson was most certainly not Raoul Duke. Personal photos—even more than personal journals, which subconsciously force you to consider what you’re writing just because you are writing—capture what’s there, not necessarily what you’re trying to project. Your discomfort is on display, as is your sincere and unrehearsed comfort—your peace.
Of the 223 pages of photos spanning Thompson’s years from the Air Force in the late 50s to his self-inflicted death by Magnum in 2005, the most engaging are those taken at his Woody Creek, Colorado ranch or traveling with chums. Sure, the pics of the Hells Angels and of Thompson’s near victorious run for Sheriff of Aspen in 1970 are as entertaining as you’d expect, but that’s all part of the Thompson Myth, which has best been captured in his novels. Gonzo gives a different look at the person behind that legend. Too bad Papa never picked up a camera, it may have saved his sanity.