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Wenders the photographer

Jochen Kürten / kbmApril 17, 2015

Making a movie is a group project. That's why filmmaker Wim Wenders appreciates the solitude of photography, he tells DW. His works are now on show at Dusseldorf's Kunstpalast.

Wim Wenders in Düsseldorf
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd

DW: The exhibition seems like a trip around the world - but it takes place in your hometown of Dusseldorf. To what extent is the term "Heimat" - home - still relevant to you?

Wim Wenders: It's quite relevant especially here at the Museum Kunstpalast. The smell says: home! When I cross the street, then I'm on the banks of the Rhine and that river was the first scent in my life. That's my first memory: those meadows along the Rhine, I played there every day. I grew up a couple of hundred meters away from here on Klever Strasse. And I used to play here at the Ehrenhof as well. [Eds: An enclosed group of Expressionist buildings].

Now you're back in Dusseldorf with an exhibition of your photographs. Your films are also currently showing in German cinemas. You're known first and foremost of course as a filmmaker, but you've been a photographer for a very long time. What's the attraction of taking pictures?

Filming is a very social activity. You're together with a lot of people and you continuously share your ideas. You have to explain yourself all the time. With your writer you refine dialogue and story a lot until the screenplay is perfect. Ant then, the filming itself is like a military operation that demands you to become a commander sometimes. Editing can sometimes take over a year and you work together with the cutter and discuss each and every shot. It's a long process and the story you want to tell passes through many hands.

Wim Wenders' exhibition. Copyright: dpa/Bildfunk
Wenders' photographs on exhibition in his native DusseldorfImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd

With photography, everything is different. Here, it's a huge privilege for me to be able to do everything by myself - except for the big prints of course. But the product, the image - that's something I can do without having to explain anything to anybody. I can put my film in the camera myself, measure the light and do all the adjustments. I'm shlepping all my equipment myself, because if I had someone with me to carry my stuff, it would change everything. I travel a lot and take my pictures on the road. Any by now, some of my journeys are strictly for photographing. For me, those are the best breaks I have, when I can take the time to do nothing else but be completely empty and full of attention only for the places I will find.

As a filmmaker, I'm a storyteller. But as a photographer, I'm strictly a listener. I listen to stories told to me not by people, but by landscapes and places, by houses and streets. Those have usually gone through a lot and they have a lot to say about us and our civilization.

Wim Wenders' photograph. Copyright: Wim Wenders/Courtesy Blain/Southern
Wenders: 'I need to engage in a silent dialogue with that place'Image: Wim Wenders/Courtesy Blain/Southern

You prefer analogue to digital photography. What are the advantages of analogue?

I've become a fierce advocate of good old analogue techniques, for myself, that is, not for others, of course... I take photos on film because I couldn't do the work I do any other way. I have to be alone and concentrated, I have to be able to follow any whim and lose myself in the place I'm about to find. I need to engage in a silent dialogue with that place. With my analogue camera, there are no problems. I can work it sleepwalking, and I don't need a computer to download anything or even just see the image. With a high-resolution digital camera that would match the quality of my negative, I'd really need to have at least an iPad with me to control the picture and its sharpness, and then I'd need an assistant already. I don't want any of that.

And there's one thing in particular I don't want: I don't want to see an image already while I'm photographing, on the back of the digital camera. While I'm getting to know a place, walking around, observing the light and trying to understand what that place can tell me, I don't want to be confronted with the product already. That would be the end of my effort to get closer to the place. If I saw the result already of what I'm just about to find out and capture, then my entire "dialogue" couldn't happen anymore, it'd be over before it began.

I also don't want to manipulate anything. I don't want to add in a different sky in my picture or photoshop something out of it. Digitalization is seducing you to that permanently, as everything is possible. You can take apart any image down to each and every atom of it you can put it bck together any way you want. I only want to recognize what I've seen, in the best possible way. And then I want to take the viewer to the very same place. I want them to be just as impressed as I was. That's the only reason why I create those large prints.

Wim Wenders' photograph. Copyright: Wim Wenders/Courtesy Blain/Southern
Wenders: 'Places don't necessarily open up right away. Sometimes you have to be patient until you earn their trust'Image: Wim Wenders/Courtesy Blain/Southern

You enter into landscapes in your photos and tell indirect stories about the people through empty streets, empty houses, flaking stucco on the facades, cemeteries for people or even for cars. What is it that you convey about people and about our time?

Time is a most important topic in my photographic work. Places exist in their very own time zones. Sometimes you photograph a place that is millions of years old and for which our human history is just a blink of the eye. Or you photograph place that are about to disappear, or places in which people have lived and worked, in which we, the human race, have invested dreams and hopes and then moved on.

Places have a lot to tell us if you just listen and allow yourself to get involved. What it there to be seen? Which details can you find? Which signs and "imprints" have we left behind? What traces has time left behind?

The longer you stand there, the more you see and the more stories you can experience – just as well as the bigger version of "stories": history. Places can speak very eloquently of world history. As long as you're ready to wait and see. Places don't necessarily open up right away. Sometimes you have to be patient until you earn their trust. Only then I can do justice to them and produce a good portrait of them. And that's he least thing I owe them.