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Book Review: Written In The West, Revisited


Book Review Written In The West, Revisited By Wim Wenders Reviewed by Tom Leininger If you tell stories in cinema, why make still pictures? That is one of the questions I had going into Wim Wenders' Written In The West Revisited. Wenders used still photography for the specific purpose of exploring the American West to learn about its color and light.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. 
DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.
 
Written in the West, Revisited
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Written in the West, Revisited
Photographs by Wim Wenders. Contribution by Alain Bergala.
D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2015. In English. 108 pp., 58 color illustrations, 9½x10¼x¾".


If you tell stories in cinema, why make still pictures? That is one of the questions I had going into Wim Wenders' Written In The West Revisited. Wenders used still photography for the specific purpose of exploring the American West to learn about its color and light. Photography for the sake of photography. The resulting pictures go beyond just a straightforward recording, but show Wenders’ mastery of the still image.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

An interview with Alain Bergala precedes the pictures, which can inform their reading. It covers a wide variety of topics from Wenders process, the difference between still and moving pictures and visual taste. It is clear the interview was done before the digital era. Waiting to see the results of the still pictures is a different part of the process, akin to seeing his rushes when making a film. The pictures are not trying to tell a narrative, they are about seeing and understanding the space and light of a place where both are abundant. In this series of photographs, Wenders is learning to see how light changes and how places can be described in the light.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

It would be easy to list who the work reminds me of, but that would be a reduction and unfair. Wenders made original work. I am reminded a bit of his films, but his vision is unique, even if the ground he traveled is well worn. It is important to note that Walker Evans was referenced in the interview at the start of the book. This is known territory, but still I find these photographs specific to Wenders. He went west, shot in color and was influenced by Evans, but the big difference was the purpose of the trip. Light and color dominate these pictures because that was the goal of the work. He was after the understanding of light and color. A pure act, if that is artistically or photographically possible.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

Wenders found a gleaming white parking garage glowing in the Houston sun. A car repair shop bathed in green fluorescent light under a dusky orange sky. Pastel color chairs in a closed hotel in Arizona looking onto a painting. A blue swimming pool ladder peeking over a curve in a concrete wall in Odessa, Texas. The dilapidated corner of Crosby and Andrews described in detail with a gleaming downtown Houston in the distance. Glendale and Burbank make California seem a bit bleak, much like the remains of the small towns of Texas and New Mexico. Wenders often photographed under full sun showing the sharpness of the surfaces, how the dust and dirt have worn down what man has built. Many places in the West are temporary. Boom is followed by bust and what remains are the necessities to keep small towns going, without any extravagances. In the end it seems that the images are not trying to make a statement but to see how the light describes the depth of streets and buildings.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

This expanded edition of the book includes 15 new images made in Paris, TX. Combining two unrelated series of pictures is not something that is normally done unless there is cache to the name attached. Wenders clearly has that kind of name and there are fans of his who will purchase this book no matter what. In the early photographs, Paris is not shown at all. Other small towns and open landscapes from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California are present in images that feel of their time due to the quality of the color negative film stock. The newer pictures are a testament to the progress color negative film has made in terms of quality and tightness of grain and fit within the content of the older pictures, but because they look so different there is a disconnect and Paris comes across as a similar but slightly other place. Wenders used a different format, 6x4.5, and the time of year brings a softer light. His color palette more muted and the film makes the pictures feel contemporary. The knowledge learned from 30 years of repeated practice make them fully Wim Wenders photographs. The pictures are about exploration, but with a refined approach.

Written in the West, Revisited. By Wim Wenders. DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

“Out West there are a lot of signs, cinema facades, billboards half worn away by the elements, already falling apart. For me, photography and weather surfaces like that are often connected.” This is a book of pictures about light and space; it is refreshing to see how simple, direct and enjoyable photography for the sake of photography can be.—TOM LEININGER


TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.


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