Crafting such films as Wings of Desire and Buena Vista Social
Club has taken Wim Wenders all over the world. Now he's chronicled
his travels in a collection of visual short stories, proving that
a photograph can capture more than simply what is seen in front
of a camera.
By Christene Barberich
HOW MANYTIMES HAVE YOU COME ACROSS A photo album and become
completely engrossed in its contents? If it's yours, you might
peer into each picture, contemplating the person you once were
or the place you once had been. If it is someone else's, the stories
become more curious without knowing the events that took place
before or after the shutter clicked closed. Director Wim Wenders
understands the meaning of "one time only." And,
instead of a picture being worth a thousand words, the photographs
he's collected in his visual storybook Once are worth a
thousand emotions, from euphoria to despair. Known for his heart-infused
films chronicling the experiences of an angel through Berlin (Wings
of Desire) or a jazz vocalist in Cuba (Buena Vista Social Club),
Wenders is a master at capturing a moment - securing a powerful
place to feel and to see love and all of its various cohorts.
As a storyteller, he has switched gears - this time using an image
or series of images to illustrate the story before us, each tale
beginning with the word "Once...'
CITY:What inspired you to put this
WIM WENDERS: The first idea came from my Italian publisher,
Fabrizio Pozzilli. He is unfortunately no longer with us. He was
a great man, and I owe this book to his vision and his perseverance.
Ever since he caught a glimpse of all the files with all the hundreds
of unprinted contact sheets in my office, he kept trying to convince
me there was a book hidden in there, not just of photographs,
but of photos together with their stories. He insisted so much
that I finally sat down and went through all the pictures and
distilled those that were connected to some sort of a story. Slowly,
the idea emerged that these stories had something in common, that
they all started with that little word "once." That
word has two connotations: "once upon a time" and "one
time only." Both are important ingredients of my notion of
CITY: The cover image is quite powerful and seems to echo
your message about the importance of recognizing a photograph's
unique landscape. There is something soulful, too, about the way
in which the dog is looking both ahead and behind, a concept you
reference in your book. Were you aware of this phenomenon when
you captured the photographs, or did it only come to you a you
WW: I really don't think that any photographer has anything
else in mind than that particular moment he is capturing. Concepts
appear later. Context appears later. You bring in a certain context,
insofar that you have your own preoccupations, your own ideas
of the world, your own fascinations. But as for myself, they are
all subconscious, and I'm only aware of them afterward, when I
see the printed picture.
CITY: Many of the series in the book are incredibly telling.
Did any of the singular photos cause you to wonder about what
might happen after you left?
WW: That is such a mystery: What happened to that place?
What happened to those people? How does this house or this street
or this landscape look now, 10 or 30 years later? That's also
the reason I called this book 0nce. You can never return to a
picture. Sure, you can return to the place where you took it.
But that's a different ballgame. That place in time has vanished
forever and exists in that photograph.
CITY: In your book you mention a German word that's special
to you - einstellung - which you define as being an attitude in
approaching a subject. What was your einstellung on this project?
WW: Discovering the story that a place wants to tell. That's
my main concern, my attitude. Listening to the place. For me,
taking a picture is more an act of listening, so to speak, than
CITY: Has the process of making an effective film scene
sharpened your eye as a still photographer?
WW: The fact that my profession is really storyteller,
not photographer, makes the whole difference. I take pictures
as a storyteller. In a movie, you add one frame to another and
structure a story in time through many different still moments.
In photography, you only get to shoot the opening scene.
CITY: Many of the images you included were taken in different
parts of the world. What is your greatest hope when you find yourself
in an unfamiliar place?
WW: My greatest hope and my entire passion for traveling
is to lose myself. Or better yet, to get lost, to not know where
I will be the next day. Turn the corner and see something you've
never seen before. Look at a map, find a place with a name that
attracts you, and just drive there. In a way, I never believed
that it was me who found the places I photographed, but rather
that the opposite is true. Those places called to me.
CITY: What is it about old men in cowboy hats?
WW: There is something ultimately tragic about them. Maybe
because the cowboy hats stand for a different life, for outdoors,
for adventure. And these old cowboys sitting in hotel lobbies
or walking down the street to their apartments or retirement homes
- for them, the adventure is over. For me, they are like whales
stranded on the beach.
'IN A WAY, I NEVER BELIEVED THAT IT WAS ME WHO FOUND 'THE PLACES
I PHOTOGRAPHED, BUT RATHER THAT THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. THOSE PLACES
CALLED TO ME.'
Once is published by D.A.P. For more information, go to
www.artbook.com or visit
the link on our site
DESIGN FOOD FASHION
PO Box 242 Prince Street Station
New York, NY 10012
Tel (212) 965-9484
Fax (212) 966-3329
to January 2002 News Reel