Wim Wenders: Once

Summer 1978 in Napa Valley, California

In Derby today to see the exhibition of photos by Wim Wenders at the Museum and Art Gallery: Once – still images of moving pictures. It documents Wender’s journeys to different parts of the world, part travel diary, photo album and photo essay. The image above isn’t in the exhibition – it’s from the Guardian’s Best Shot series – but others from the same sequence were:

This picture was taken in the summer of 1978, when I was living in San Francisco and working on a movie called Hammett, for Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Pictures. One weekend, at very short notice, I was told that I could join the film director Akira Kurosawa on a trip to Francis’s home in Napa Valley.

The day was scorching hot, so Francis took his guests to a pond in the little forest behind his property. That’s when I took this picture of a lazy Sunday afternoon in paradise. You can see Francis in the water.Kurosawa himself is sitting in the shade. He, of course, could not be persuaded to jump into the water. The fact that he had spent the excursion in shirtsleeves was quite a concession already.

The only great view of the whole group was from the water, so I swam out with my Horizon – you can see my foot in the foreground – and took this picture, guessing the exposure. For a long time, nobody said a word. It was as if we were all aware of this instant of bliss: the sun shining through the trees; the sound of the crickets; the utter peacefulness of a moment that united several generations of film-makers. Life is good – and every now and then a photograph can do it justice.

I grabbed a few shots of images and related text. This one is from the Kurosawa-Coppola sequence, followed by Wenders’ commentary:



I was traveling in a Mercedes 600,
with Akira Kurosawa, his interpreter
and a couple of other people,
from San Francisco
to Napa Valley,
where we’d been invited by Francis Coppola. This big Mercedes
broke down halfway.
We spent an hour
at a country fair
where we also took this panorama shot
of Kurosawa and a cajun band,
the ‘Louisiana Playboys’.
Then Les Blank came through
in his incredible old van.
We accepted his invitation
and all piled into his van.
Francis did a double take
when the back-firing van drew up by his veranda
and Kurosawa got out.
The rest of the afternoon
passed so calm and serene,
like maybe no other day.
It was hot
and we all went and had a swim in the lake.
The only one who didn’t was Kurosawa.



I walked all the way from Salzburg to Venice, across the Alps.
For days I didn’t meet a soul.
I took only a few pictures.
When you’re walking steadily
it is annoying to stop.

At an ancient farmhouse
I stopped to take a rest.
The house was more than 500 years old, the farmer told me.
It had neither running water
nor electricity.
The grandmother kept chuckling merriiy and talking to herself.
Since then I can imagine
the Middle Ages,
and what life and people must have been like then.



I was sitting in a movie theatre in Venice, behind this two men.
I thought at the thousands upon thousands of images and stories
that had been created inside,
or rather, that were still being created in those heads
Their images and stories
were to survive them both,
were to survive all of us.
The men in front of me were
Akira Kurosawa
and Michael Powell.



I drove across Texas
for weeks.
If I was to define Texas by a single image
I’d say:
an old man with a cowboy hat. Old cowboys
are the saddest
and most touching figures.

To shoot pictures

Here is an extract from opening remarks to the exhibition by Wenders:

To shoot pictures.
Taking pictures is an act in time,
in which something is snapped out of its own time
and transferred into a different kind of duration.
It is commonly assumed
that whatever is captured in this act
lies IN FRONT OF the camera.
But that is not true.
Taking pictures is an act in two directions:
and backwards.
Yes, taking pictures also “backfires.”
This isn’t even too lame a comparison.
Just as the hunter lifts his rifle,
aims at the deer in front of him,
pulls the trigger,
and, when the bullet departs from the muzzle,
is thrown backwards by the recoil,
the photographer, likewise, is thrown backwards,
onto himself,
when releasing the shutter.
A photograph is always a double image,
showing, at first glance – more or less visible,
“hidden behind it,” so to speak,
the “reverse angle”:
the picture of photographer
in action.
Just as the hunter is not struck by the bullet, though, but only feels the recoil of the explosion,
this counter-image contained in every photograph Is not actually captured by lens, either.
(Yet it remains somehow inextricably in the picture, as an invisible impression of the photographer,
that even gets developed within the darkroom chemistry…)
What then is the recoil of the photographer?
How do you feel its impact?
How does it affect the subject,
And which trace of it appears on the photograph?
In German, there is a most revealing word
for this phenomenon,
a word
know from a variety of context:
It means the attitude
in which someone approaches something,
psychologically or ethically,
i.e. the way of attuning yourself
and then “taking it in.”


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