The Photos of Wim Wenders

The Photos of Wim Wenders

Ernst Wilhelm "Wim" Wenders is perhaps best known for his films Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas, but the German filmmaker also takes beautiful photos and has exhibited them around the world for the past 30 years.

Born in Düsseldorf, 1945, Wenders studied medicine, philosophy and film at various stages before dropping out of university and moving to Paris to become a painter. It was there that he became fascinated with film, watching up to five movies a day at the local movie theatre. Surprisingly, he never studied photography but has taken photos since the age of six or seven, when his father showed him how.

Wim Wenders Paris texas wall - Stan RayWall in Paris, Texas (2001) 

Wim Wenders open air screen - stan rayOpen Air Screen, Palermo (2007)

With his trusty Plaubel Makina 67 and Fuji GX-617 cameras, Wenders chooses to travel alone without an assistant, insisting it’s when he takes his best pictures. "If I'm not alone, I don't take pictures. The basic thing I'm after, to abandon myself and immerse myself in the place, you can't do that with somebody else around."

From the late 60s to the mid-80s, Wenders took thousands of Polaroids and exhibited exactly 403 of them in London last year for Instant Stories (soon to open in Berlin). A few are a slightly blurred or not perfectly focused, but all are masterfully framed with his once-treasured SX-70 camera.

Wim Wenders dennis hopper polaroid - stan rayDennnis Hopper, Polaroid from 'Instant Stories'

Wim Wenders san francisco polaroid - stan raySan Francisco Street Corner, Polaroid from 'Instant Stories'

Wim Wenders airport polaroid - stan rayCharles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, Polaroid from 'Instant Stories'

In an age of smartphones and filters, Wenders' photos are a welcome reminder of the sacred quality a photograph possesses, and the beauty of capturing a moment in its simplest form before it passes.

Wim Wenders once book - stan rayWim Wenders 'Once' (Schirmer Art Books, 1993)

Wenders’ favourite book, Once, was first published in 1993. It contains forty-four autobiographical sketches or diaries from his trips around the world - searching for, or on the way to movie locations. Each Sketch begins “Once…” in the same way fairy tales begin “Once upon a time…”

"Once" I went to a screening of "Paris, Texas" with Harry Dean Stanton in a long limo. Even in the middle of New York, Harry was still Travis, sitting in the back of his brother's car and traveling through the desert in silence.

Wim Wenders harry dean stanton - stan rayHarry Dean Stanton, New York

The book is full of great images and refreshingly humble accounts of times hanging out friends who happened to be stars, such as Jean-Luc Godard, Dennis Hopper, Akira Kurosawa, and Francis Coppola.

Wim Wenders dennis hopper nicholas ray - stan rayDennis Hopper and Nicholas Ray, Barstow, Nevada

Wim Wenders Kurosawa Coppola - stan rayAkira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola, Napa Valley

Time spent living, working and traveling across America is well documented, including several images that inspired Paris, Texas - one of the influences of the Stan Ray SS18 collection.

Wim Wenders texas motel - stan rayHoliday Motel, Texas

Wim Wenders hammett street - stan rayHammett Street, San Franciso

Wim Wenders Texan cowboy - stan rayTexan Cowboy

Wim Wenders old man australia - stan rayOld Man, Australia

Once is both a travel and photo diary, stories with photos or photos with stories. Wenders makes a couple of interesting points when explaining his approach "Taking pictures is an act in two directions – forwards and backwards – every photo reflects both the subject and the attitude of the person that took it." And that "Taking a photo is an act in time, in which something is snapped out of its own time and transferred into a different kind of duration. The time span between the first picture and the next is where the story emerges."

Wim Wenders Entrance Houston Texas - stan rayEntrance, Houston, Texas (1983)

Wim Wenders Two Cars and a Woman Waiting - stan rayTwo Cars and a Woman Waiting, Houston, Texas, (1983)

Wim Wenders' photos often resemble paintings, with their distinctive warm analog feel. A film purist, he steers clear of digital photography or digital manipulation and montage. “I don’t want to bash it, it’s a different thing, but I don’t think it’s photography.” 

Finding a moment or place that escapes the rest of us is Wenders' unique skill. He produces the most hauntingly beautiful scenes which are familiar but not as we’ve seen them before. Perfect cinematic scenes, seemingly frozen in time.

Wim Wenders motel pool texas - stan rayMotel Pool, Texas

As he concludes the book “Once is not enough” I used to say as a kid. That seemed very plausible to me “once upon a time”. But when you take pictures, I learned, none of that applies. Then “once” is “once and for all.”

All photo credits: Wim Wenders
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