Saturday, 16 April 2011

Places, Strange and Quiet

As a film maker Wim Wenders has been somewhat hit and miss. Early works, such as Alice in the Cities were remarkable, and mid-career Paris, Texas beautifully shot and enigmatic, whereas the more recent Until the End of the World is truly awful, badly scripted, badly acted, unconvincing, confused, sprawling and self indulgent. Even Wings of Desire, which I used to rate as one of my favourite films, upon a recent revisit I found to be problematic and a little awkward, containing moments of true poetry and deeply resonating beauty but coupled with elements of farce and ridiculousness. But I still rate his work interesting enough and his grasp of the visual strong enough that when hearing he had an exhibition of photographs at the Haunch of Venison in London I thought it would be worth a look.

Spanning the duration of his film career Places, strange and quiet is an equally hit and miss affair. Some of the images are striking but many are simply average. The strength in most lies in colour, bright and bold primary colour. But the misses are such that when he does produce a successful composition, such as his shot of a street corner cut neatly into three bands of colour - the right hand third is red, the top third of the rest is bright blue, and the remainder a sandy yellow, you feel it is merely the happy accident of an amateur.

The photographs are large in scale and considerately spaced throughout several rooms. One of the best images is of an empty outdoor stage in front of which lies row after row of bright red plastic chairs, a palm tree growing out from the middle of them to the right of the image. Another is of a disused and delapidated ferris wheel standing alone in a wide expanse of waste ground, misty low hills on the horizon. On the opposite wall of the gallery is the same ferris wheel seen from the other side and close up, through which a tired looking housing estate can be seen in the background. One of the strongest technically is of an old car in what could be a desert or simply a quarry with a dog standing on the roof. The dog is a pure black silhouette, wild and threatening. This is one of the few photographs in the collection to inspire an emotion other than melancholy.

The subject matter comprises mostly of abandoned places and forgotten things, objects that have seen better days and lost their usefulness. Some suggest narratives, such as the woman in the red dress standing before military battlements and the wall pockmarked with bullet holes that have since been painted over in red (Wenders is obviously drawn to red). But most are simply mundane. Many, unsurprisingly I suppose, have the sense of film sets about them, stumbled on accidentally by an opportunistic collector of images. There is no accompanying information, none of the photographs are provided with titles or indications as to where they were photographed, but it is clear that these images have been collected over a long period of time and from all corners of the globe.

I'm not saying Wenders' photographs are bad, I have seen plenty which are worse and one or two of them are exceptionally beautiful, I just wonder if he would have been given such a large and prestigious exhibition with the interest that this garners if he didn't already have a reputation as a respected film director to back him up.

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