Wim Wenders” “Instant Stories” at The Photographers’ Gallery, London
I have recently been experimenting with a Polaroid camera (re-furbished Polaroid Impulse 600, 1988-1992). There’s something fascinating for me about the instant film prints with their slight softness and more muted colours so there was no way I wanted to miss this Exhibition (on until 11th February 2018)
This is an Exhibition of over 200 old Polaroids taken between the early 1970s and the mid 1980s, mainly with Wenders’ SX-70 at a time when he was building his career as a film-maker. He is exhibiting them now not so much through nostalgia but because he believes they have a relevance to lessons for the present, “Polaroids remind us of an innocence, of a different attitude toward the world and toward the act of taking pictures…..There was some sort of testimony in these Polaroids that I thought could be interesting to oppose to our present culture of instant picture-taking.” (Eoin Murray, 2 November 2017, in BJP online). For him then it was concerned with some feeling of awe holding something one-of-a-kind and I agree with that because even though they can be scanned or re-photographed it still doesn’t take away the fact that the polaroid image itself is unique. So far I’ve found that despite the virtues of Photoshop it still hasn’t been possible to reproduce the particular feel and look of the instant prints.
Wenders differentiates between the spontaneity of creating the Polaroid print that he experienced in those early days and the more serious, concentrated act of creating a photograph – its ‘more painterly aspects’. Now that does sound nostalgic to me and a nostalgia for his more youthful past, especially as he doesn’t want to use a modern Polaroid-type camera, despite being given a new One Step 2 camera recently.
In the interview with Murray, Wenders refers to the efforts that photographers make nowadays to capture ‘truth’ – the picture they take being exactly as they saw the scene, because of the loss of belief in photography being a ‘truth-based medium’. I think that, somehow, he is conflating what he sees as the ‘honesty’ of the instant print because it’s a one-and-only, with a search for reproducing reality as we see it. As much as I enjoy using my Polaroid camera I don’t really think that the prints carry a truth concerning what I saw through its lens. I need to hold that though because it fits with my preparation for Assignment 4.
As I walked round the Exhibition I was struck by the presentation of the prints, in box frames as if precious. Mainly small of course so that I had to walk right up to have a look and then I wished I could hold the actual prints in my hands. I was struck by the way in which Wenders had used the polaroids as a visual diary, trying out ideas for films, capturing a moment, meeting, event – pretty much similar to the way I use my iPhone.
I resisted buying the book but succumbed after a few days. It is beautifully presented – large, heavy blue linen cover with a ‘polaroid’ print on the cover which is slightly skew-whiff and adds to the evocation of the spontaneity of a polaroid print. According to his text (p.12) the polaroids came to light during the archiving of all materials connected with his film work and photography and they were found in wooden boxes from his cigar smoking days. There are many more polaroids within the book than in the Exhibition (403) and these are ordered not by theme but as ‘stories’ in the form of short stories and haikus which have been printed with an ‘old’ typewriter font to add to the aesthetic of nostalgia and memory. I was intrigued about the pages containing photographs because whereas the pages appear matte, the photographs themselves often have a very slight gloss on them as if they had been stuck on, yet they haven’t. I was disappointed that there’s no information at the end of the book, or in the publisher’s website, concerning the font or the paper. The title page also mentions the inclusion of seven photographs created by Annie Leibovitz from Annie Leibovitz Archive Project #1: The Early Years but page numbers are not noted and, so far, I haven’t found any captions naming them.
Not mentioned in the Exhibition but a note for myself here that Wim Wenders has also produced two 3D films “Pina” 2012 is about the German choreographer Pina Bausch
and “Everything Will Be Fine” exploring the effects of the death of a child in an accident. These films appear to be stereo 3D as opposed to anaglyph 3D.
Wenders, W (2017) Instant Stories, London, Thames & Hudson