There is a fascination in contemporary photography with overlooked objects and places – these are framed anew though the photographic lens and their imaginative or metaphoric possibilities explored. Wim Wenders (b.1945), better known as the Director of films like Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987), works in this vein, taking photographs of places that have been abandoned or are in a state of deterioration: run-down movie theatres in Arizona, boarded-up cafes in New Mexico, decaying backyards in Moscow. His work carries a sense of fragility and dislocation, the original purpose of the places or things often having been lost.
Ferris wheel (2008) is typical of the desolate isolation in Wenders’ photographs. The artist came across the abandoned Ferris Wheel in the middle of an empty field in Armenia. About how he discovers such places, the artist has said, “Everyone turns right, because that’s where it’s interesting. I turn left, where there is nothing. And sure enough, I soon find myself in front of my sort of place…[one] that is strangely quiet or quietly strange.”
In Black Square (2002, New Mexico), the hues of blue and red contrast with, even highlight more saliently, the decaying wall and tatty old advert, which poignantly includes the words Why Not Now. This photograph shows a deft painterly skill with colour and composition, as does Street Corner in Butte (2003, Montana), with its sharp vertical and horizontal lines and stark contrasts that render the shadows almost black. With the bleak isolation and uncanny feel here, this could be a scene from an Edward Hopper (1924-67) painting; and Wenders’ nod to Hopper is clear in films like The End of Violence (1997), in which one scene recreates the painting Nighthawks (1946).
Wenders’ photographic sensibility is akin to that in his films, and is similarly a meditation on memory, loss, time, nostalgia and emptiness, although he observes that photographs allow him to focus on something other than people: “I have sharpened my sense of place for things that are out of place”. And yet Wenders’ photographs still ‘speak’ – of “all those (people) who once were there, who lived there, who passed through, and who messed something up”.