November 16, 2017

Wim Wenders’ Previously Unseen Polaroid Pictures

Featured Wim Wenders Self-portrait, 1975. ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy of the Wim Wenders Foundation.

Fancy a rare opportunity to see the personal and previously unseen Polaroid work of the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Wim Wenders? Then look no further. The Photographers’ Gallery in London, U.K. is offering a unique insight into the artist’s thought processes, preoccupations, and aesthetic inspirations. Whilst his larger photographic works are well known, this is the first time he has shown a selection of the many thousands of Polaroid photographs taken, both on and off location, between the late 1960s and mid-80s.

Wim Wenders at his book launch at The Photographers’ Gallery, shot by Liana Joyce

Wenders’ fascination with the Polaroid form stems from his early adoption of the format while he was learning the craft of film-making. Polaroid pictures operated as a 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.

“The entire Polaroid process (or procedure) had nothing to do with our contemporary experience, when we look at virtual and vanishing apparitions on a screen that we can delete or swipe away to go to the next one.” Wenders writes in his Artist’s book of the same title, Autumn 2017. “Then, you produced and owned ‘an original!’ Not a copy, not a print, not multipliable, not repeatable. You could stare at it, then look up and recognise whatever you had sensed before, in that fleeting moment of pushing the release button. But when you looked down at the picture again, it showed something past! Time was so much built into that process! And when you were looking up once more in what was now definitely the present tense again – from that ‘really existing object’ to the ‘really existing scene’ – you couldn’t help feeling that you had stolen this image-object from the world. You had transferred a piece of the past into the present. (Or the other way around?)”

'Valley of the Gods, Utah' 1977. ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt a.M.
'New York Parade' 1972. ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation.

Instant Stories, presents over 200 of Wenders’ Polaroid pictures encompassing portraits of cast and crew, friends and family, behind-the scenes, still-lives, street-photography and landscapes. Alongside diary-like impressions and homages to his artistic inspirations, including Fassbinder and Warhol, the small format images take us on a literal and metaphoric journey through Europe and the US. From his first trip to New York, his fascination with American TV, views from rooftops (he’d never been so high up before), shop-fronts, roads, cars and many other visual recordings, Wenders’ Polaroid pictures reflect a distinctive and lyrical vision – at once both intimate and portentous. The exhibition will also feature a selection of moving images from his films, reflecting moments in Wenders’ canon, where Polaroid cameras and still photographs form a vital part of the narrative, such as the photo-obsessed protagonist in ‘Alice in the Cities’ (1974).

'Dennis Hopper' 1976. ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy Deutsches Filminstitut Frankfurt a.M.
'Sydney' ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation.

Taking Wim Wenders’ Polaroid pictures as a point of departure, a panel of scientists, creatives, and cultural thinkers will unpack the complex chemistry behind analog instant photography this coming Tuesday, November 21. They will explore its popularity and cultural resonance then and now – especially given its growing popularity with millennials – and reflect on its unique ability to be both a form of rehearsal and performance in artistic practice. Chaired by writer and author, Peter Buse, the panel includes our very own Scientist and CTO: Stephen Herchen, Photographer, and writer, Kyler Zeleny, plus special guests TBA.

If you’d like to attend the panel discussion for yourself find out more via

'By an unknown photographer' 1971. ©Wim Wenders. Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation.

Instant Stories. Wim Wenders’ Polaroids is a collaboration between The Photographers’ Gallery, C|O Berlin and the Wim Wenders Foundation.