Wenders Exhibits Photos

To fans of cinema, Wim Wenders is best known as the director of Wings of Desire, which garnered several prestigious awards and introduced him to audiences worldwide. Although the film was shot by renowned cinematographer Henri Alekan, the beautiful composition of the shots shows a director keenly aware of the way an image should look.

As a photographer, Wenders’ imagistic sensitivity is even more apparent, and in the new Carpenter Center exhibit “Wim Wenders: Photos” (Dec. 4 to Jan. 11), presented in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Boston, he takes on the often startling landscape of Australia.

The exhibition, composed of photographs Wenders took on his first trip to Australia in the late 1980s, is a traveling exhibition originally put together by the Goethe-Institut, the largest organization promoting German cultural and educational policy abroad.

Karin Kolb, program coordinator at the Goethe-Institut Boston, explained the reason behind the exhibition. “We liked the fact of being able to show the public a different side of well-known and respected filmmaker Wim Wenders,” she said.

She added that Wings of Desire will also be shown be shown at the Brattle Street Theatre from Dec. 19 to 23 while the exhibit is up.

The Carpenter Center exhibit was the brainchild of Eric Rentschler, chair of the department of Germanic Languages and Literature at Harvard. Rentschler, who also teaches in the Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) department, was well-acquainted with Wim Wenders’s films. He and Kenan Professor of English Marjorie Garber, the director of the Carpenter Center and chair of VES, brought the Wenders exhibit to the Carpenter Center before its next stop in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit’s focus on the expansive horizon, the sharp contrast between the sky and the ground and the striking features of the land makes each photograph an extraordinary tableau to behold. For most people, the obvious interest in the exhibition is the relationship between Wenders’s cinematic and photographic works. But Melissa Davenport, who worked on this exhibition for the Carpenter Center, explains that it has the potential to appeal to a wider audience.

“Anyone who’s interested in [Wenders] is going to be interested in this dimension of his work. He takes photographs every time he’s going to do a movie; he goes to take photographs of the location. The photographs definitely hold up on their own because they’re beautiful, and anyone who’s interested in photography, Australia, or landscape would enjoy the exhibit,” she said.

The photographs were taken with a Japanese Art Panorama camera, a replacement for Wenders’s stolen Russian Horizon camera. The Art Panorama, however, was extremely heavy, and the Aboriginals with whom Wenders traveled gave him the name “the madman with the camera.” Wenders defended his choice of cameras in the companion book to the exhibition, Wim Wenders: Photos.

“Any other camera was out of the question. The horizon was so far and so perfectly straight, and the view so unlimited that only the 2.3 x 6.7 inch negative format seemed suitable to render a true reproduction of it all,” he writes.

Indeed, the photographs are focused not only on the dramatic presence of the horizon, but also on the things that interrupted that perfectly straight line.

Wenders writes, “No matter how far the horizon, it was the things in the foreground, every rock and every shrub, that became important to me... In the course of taking these pictures I, the photographer, became totally transparent as a subject.”

In Wenders’s works in both media, he has focused on landscapes on the verge of obliteration or demolishment, from pre-unification Berlin in Wings of Desire to abandoned cities of the American West and decaying houses in Cuba in his new exhibit, “Pictures From the Surface of the Earth: Photographs by Wim Wenders,” which is being shown at the James Cohen Gallery in New York City through Dec. 20.

For Wenders, the process of capturing these images, while complimenting his work as a director, is also unique and inextricably tied to the experience of living. As Wenders wrote in his book about his experience in Australia, “It takes a few nights of sleeping on desert ground and staring into the starry sky until you can scarcely keep your eyes open to value the experience of photographing again.”