Wim Wenders: Instant Stories – The Photographers Gallery, London

8 November 2017 § Leave a comment

Anyone familiar with the work of Wim Wenders may suspect that he has more than a passing interest in photography. In two of his movies in particular the use of Polaroid cameras is a vital part of the narrative: in the road movie Alice in the Cities there is a photo-obsessed protagonist whilst in The American Friend, Dennis Hopper snaps himself repeatedly. Both make appearances in the exhibition, the film clip of Hopper showing alongside multiple images taken during the period of filming.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

It is not however necessary to have any knowledge of his films to enjoy this exhibition for Wenders is a fine photographer. He is reluctant to admit this, and wants the Polaroids to be enjoyed rather as illustrations of the period and a record of the people and places.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

He says “I was learning the craft of filmmaking in those years, and Polaroids were the perfect complimentary tool: as a visual notebook, a quick way of ‘framing’ the world, a verification of my interest in people, places, objects, or simply as a way to remember things.”

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

Wenders was a prolific Polaroid user, so much so that the company would supply him with cameras and film to test. He himself estimates that he took more than 12,000 Polaroids between 1973 and 1983 although only 3,500 remain. “The thing is,” he says, “you gave them away. You had the person in front of you, whose picture you had just taken, and it was like they had more right to it. The Polaroids helped with making the movies, but they were not an aim in themselves. They were disposable.”

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

The images are wonderfully evocative. The are instinctive and clever. Sometimes they make clever use of colour and light at others there are moody black and white street scenes. He dips in an out of recognisable styles. In one a car door hangs loosely open, inviting us to complete a story perhaps. In another a pair of spectacles looks back at in front of a blurred cityscape.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

There are moments of leisure – a casual image of a bottle of ketchup on a table is cleverly composed and invokes Martin Parr’s casual inspection on culture. An image of Dennis Hopper cigarette in hand is a perfect off-screen image of a celebrity. Stacks of Campbell’s Soup are clearly a reference to Andy Warhol.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

Often they were his visual notebook – a way of testing out frames and ideas – but more than that they offered him a kind of liminal space between the subject and the photograph, the photographer and the act of taking a photo, the intention and the outcome.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

He is also well aware of the place in photographic history of the Polaroid. “The entire Polaroid process has nothing to do with our contemporary experience, when we look at virtual and vanishing apparitions on a screen … This was a true THING, a singular object of its own, not a copy, not a print, not multipliable, not repeatable.”

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

Sadly it is now 30 years since Wenders took any Polaroids. “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image. The image for me was always linked to the idea of uniqueness… that whole notion is gone.

Despite his insistence that this is ephemera not to be taken seriously, when displayed in a gallery and viewed as a body of work there is no doubt that these are important images and easily elevated to the status of ‘art’.

Wim Wenders: Instant Stories - The Photographers Gallery, London

Wenders insists “The meaning of these Polaroids is not in the photos themselves – it is in the stories that lead to them. That’s why the exhibition is called Instant Stories – the catalogue is a storybook more than a photo book.” This is a ‘story’ that is absolutely essential viewing for any photographer or film maker whilst still being a rich and fascinating experience for everyone.

Instant Stories is at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 11 February 2018

CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of The Photographers’ Gallery

Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album at the Royal Academy

21 July 2014 § Leave a comment

As well as being a famed actor and director, Dennis Hopper was a prodigious snapper. For a period he took his beloved Nikon 28mm wherever he went, working so obsessively that his friends, the artists Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz actually referred to him as ‘the tourist’.

Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
During this period from 1961 to 1967 Hopper took over 18,000 photographs and in the process documented an era. This recording however was not in the form of a casual observer. Hopper had of course already appeared in rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956) – two of the eras seminal films that introduced fifties youth culture to a wary American public – and was an integral part of the Hollywood scene mingling, and friends with, the like of Peter and Jane Fonda, Bill Cosby, David Hemmings and Paul Newman.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Artistic throughout his life he created paintings, assemblages as well as photographs and participated in a number of group exhibitions in the sixties. He was intimately associated with the Los Angeles art world and photographed key figures like Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Allan Kaprow and Ed Ruscha.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
His home was considered as something of a salon for artists, actors, writers and musicians – his eclectic possessions including artworks by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ruscha and others – Andy Warhol himself once commenting that “Everyone in Hollywood I wanted to meet was there”.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
His connections with important galleries like Ferus meant led to commissioned work for the like of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Artforum. Not only did he witness part of the Pop Art movement but also witnessed the flowering of the beat culture movement. Friendly with Allen  Ginsberg and Michael McClure he attended readings and hippie festivals taking photographs of the like of LSD king Timothy Leary.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Music was an essential part of the culture of the period and once again Hopper was there snapping Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, James Brown and many more. The Hells Angels were frequently part of these festivals and further to his own deep interest in bikes (witness Easy Rider of course) he took many photographs of them too.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
He did not either miss other social movements such as black power and civil rights, witnessing and recording many events, marches and the then inevitable police clashes.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
An exhibition that superficially might therefore appear to be the casual photographs of a Hollywood icon is so, so much more.  We in effect have an insiders and participants view of one of the most important periods of American history witnessing and recording most of the important cultural and artistic events of the era.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Hopper’s images are by and large quite ordinary. If one takes many thousand images of such iconic events and personalities there are sure to be some great pieces – his Double Standard is reminiscent of the great works of Lee Friedlander for example – but the value here doesn’t lie in Hoppers moderate photographic talents but the astonishing breadth and depth of the images. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album is at the Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, London until 19 October 2014

 

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Dennis Hopper at a kick up the arts.

%d bloggers like this: