How Wim Wenders put the snap back into Polaroids

From BBC - October 21, 2017

Wim Wenders became a major film-maker when, in the 1970s, German cinema became cool around the world.His hits included The American Friend and Paris, Texas.But Wenders was privately experimenting with one of the most straightforward of visual technologies - the Polaroid stills camera.Thousands of those shots were thrown away - but now a selection of surviving images has gone on display in London.

Wenders says when he started taking Polaroid pictures in the mid-1960s it had nothing to do with art.

"It was just part of my life.I would photograph things to do with movies I was making, or when I travelled.It was useful and fun - which I think is what Polaroids were for most people."

Instant photography - doing away with a separate and lengthy process of developing film outside the camera - arrived commercially in 1948.It was the creation of Polaroid's founder Edwin Land.In the early years the images were black and white.

The big step forward was the arrival of the Polaroid sx-70 camera in the early 1970s."It was science fiction and nobody had seen anything like it.You pointed the camera and took the picture and then it came out - an empty, blank bit of white paper.And before your eyes it slowly turned into the image you had shot a few moments before.It was exhilarating in its colours and brightness.

"You have to remember that at this time people did not have even VHS tape - we were in a simpler, analogue world.So to be able to create and record a visual image almost immediately seemed extraordinary."

Now some 200 of the images are on display in London, under the title Instant Stories.Some of them show well-known people the director worked with such as the actor Dennis Hopper.Others are landscapes or pictures of odd corners in places Wenders visited such as New York or Sydney.

There are also close-up images of a TV set showing the 1956 film The Girl Ca not Help It, with appearances from Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent."It's still my favourite rock and roll movie.And suddenly with a Polaroid you could photograph something you enjoyed and you had it in front of you to hold, almost at once.At the time it was extraordinary.

"The other great thing is that if friends were in the image you could give it to them - and that's what happened to many of the pictures I took.

"I'd had traditional cameras since I was six or so and I enjoyed using them. But there was a whole new spontaneity with the Polaroid which I think some people are now starting to rediscover the way they have rediscovered music on vinyl.

"Everyone says, 'oh the kids are not interested in physical objects any more: they do not want a book or a newspaper or a CD.'But the kids will regret it when they are older: if you are 25 you have to realise that the phone which seems so great now will one day be yesterday's technology and lots of the digital images we all have will be hard or even impossible to look at.'


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