Vigils for John Lennon, superhighway jaunts with Annie Leibovitz, descriptions of Dennis Hopper Wim Wenders took thousands of Polaroids while moving his classic films. He shares the narrations behind them

Wim Wenders judges he took more than 12,000 Polaroids between 1973 and 1983, when his profession as a film-maker genuinely taken away from, but simply 3,500 abide.” The occasion is ,” he says,” you handed them away. You had the person in front of you, whose portrait you had just taken, and it was like they had more right to it. The Polaroids helped with making the movies, but they were not an objective in themselves. They were disposable .”

Four decades on, the Photographers’ Gallery in London is about to host an extensive expo of Wenders’s early Polaroids called Instant Stories . They date from that prolific span in the 1970 s that produced now classic cinemas such as The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, Alice in the Cities and The American Friend. Numerous captivate times in the making of these movies, but others are the recording of the places he travelled through: municipalities, little town, deserts, roads and inns. Like his movies, they all retain a melancholic romanticism.” My firstly reaction was,’ Wow! Where did this all come from ?’ I had forgotten about so much of it. I realised I had been taking photos like a lunatic .”

Melancholy romanticism … Self-portrait, 1975. Photo:( c) Wim Wenders/ Courtesy the Wim Wenders Foundation

The Polaroids have been grouped under characteristically poignant designations: Photo Booths, Jukeboxes and Typewriters; Inspecting for America; California Dreaming; Mean Streets. Together, they add up to an impressionistic journal of a epoch when” there was no sadness , no anger, there was nothing but sheer innocence , is not simply my own, but everyone around me. The movies were made from the working day to another without any immense reckon process. They were made from the gut- and the Polaroids also are made from the gut .”

We are sitting in a comfortable, well-ordered agency in Wenders Images, a studio complex near the center of Berlin that rooms his vast, meticulously organised archive. He had turned up earlier wearing a helmet and cagoule, having toured from his nearby home on an electric motorcycle. With his surprise of grey-headed hair, thick round glasses and high-waisted trousers with bracings, he looks like an eccentric professor.

‘ They are a health recall of how things were- and what we have lost’ … New York Parade, 1972. Image:( c) Wim Wenders/ Courtesy the Wim Wenders Foundation

Wenders , now 72, was given his first camera as small children in Dusseldorf by “his fathers”, a doctor.” He took portrait all his life, but never thought of himself as a photographer. He passed on his appreciation to me. I had to learn about showing, focus, all the technological trash. But much as I cherished doing it, I likewise never thought of myself as a photographer. Even afterwards with the Polaroids, that was still the dispute .”

Does he think that defined the personas he made?” Yes. For sure. If ever I had wanted to really take a picture of something, I would not have done it with a Polaroid. I never thought of it as committing the real depict .”

When approached by the Photographers’ Gallery, he thoughts long and hard about exhibiting them.” I truly hesitated.The only justification for putting them in a hall is because they register what happened. They are a healthful storage of how things were and what we have lost. The realisation that we have lost something is not inevitably nostalgic. It can be terrible .”

Heinz, 1973, by Wim Wenders Photograph:( c) Wim Wenders

In the context of a hall, the Polaroids have a complex spirit. Often pleated or recognized, with their emblazons slightly faded, they rekindled another time, one that already seems impossibly distant. What’s more, they give that age an halo of riddle and mystery- even when they are blurred or severely compiled. That was part of the glamour of the unwieldy, hard-to-focus camera. But, in an exhibition infinite, they find themselves elevated from ephemera to art.

It is an uncomfortable change, which has not moved unnoticed by Wenders.” The definition of these Polaroids is not in the photos themselves- it is in the fibs that lead to them. That’s why the exhibition is called Instant Stories- the catalogue is a storybook more than a photo book .”

The accompanying narratives are surely mesmerizing. In one, he recalls a chance meeting in 1973 with” a towering young woman” who takes the seat beside him at the bar in CBGB, the acclaimed New York nightclub. Sensing his loneliness, she applies him her refer and figure as she is leaving, telling him to request should he find himself alone in San Francisco.

A week later, he does merely that- and so begins a rapport with a young music photographer announced Annie Leibovitz, who takes him on a street outing to Los Angeles.” I made some situations on the road and so did Annie ,” he says. Shots he took of her driving are in the exhibition.

In another story, he narrates hearing about John Lennon’s death while driving along a pike in Los Angeles.” That was a very decisive moment in “peoples lives” ,” he says.” I pulled over and let the traffic go by and it gradually sank in and I started to cry. I sat there and wept until there were no more rends left .” On motive, he drove to the airport and caught the red-eye to New York.” When I got there, I was part of a silent meeting of thousands of beings. It was an play of common pain. We had all lost something essential that we thought was not going to end so soon. For me, it was my childhood, my youth .”

Unlike his later photography, which is mainly landscapes and builds, Instant Stories includes various sketches, including the great Dutch cinematographer Robby Muller, the German actor Senta Berger, and the late Dennis Hopper, who performed in The American Friend. Hopper was also an accomplished photographer. Did they compare notes?” Not really. Dennis was”- long pause-” a cheerful being. By the time our paths traversed, he had left photography behind and was painting. We spoke about photography and I pictured and cherished his drudgery. We even made a film in which his persona talks about photography a good deal. But for Dennis, photography was a occasion of the past. I knew him from 1976 and I never identified him taking a picture .”

Ephemera … Campbell Soups, New York, 1972. Picture:( c) Wim Wenders

Wenders, more , now considers photography as a happening of the past.” It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed- the act of examining does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about presenting, sending and perhaps recollecting. It is no longer essentially about the persona. The persona for me was always linked to the idea of uniqueness, to a frame and to arrangement. You caused something that was, in itself, a singular minute. As such, it had a certain sacredness. That whole thought is go .”

Several years ago, as if in acknowledgment of this, he dedicated his Polaroid camera to his love Patti Smith.” Hers was age-old and marred and giving the glowing in ,” he says.” I had the same camera. I was never going to use it any more .”

So Instant Stories is also an elegy for the Polaroid itself, and all it stood for.” At the time, it was part of daily life, another thing you used for living- like meat and breeze and the stinky vehicles we were driving and the cigarettes everyone was smoking. Today, making a Polaroid is just a process .”

He sighs and rubs his eyes.” The culture has changed. It has all gone. I genuinely don’t know why we stick to the word photography any more. There should be a different term, but none helped about ascertaining it .”

  • Instant Stories is at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, 20 October to 11 February, of cooperating with Wim Wenders Foundation and C | O Berlin Foundation.

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