Stills from a life in moving pictures

Wim Wenders made his name with films like `Paris, Texas' and `Wings of Desire'. Now he fancies himself as a photographer as well.

`London is a happening city," says Wim Wenders after spending two weeks there. "I used to love London in the Sixties. I went there a lot then. I used to love the atmosphere and the rock and roll. I feel it's like that again now. It all went dead in the Eighties but that excitement has come back. I love the music - The Verve are brilliant."

Wenders has been a leading representative of German cinema since the Seventies, when he made the film Summer in the City with music by The Kinks. We met last week not in London but in the medieval town of Cahors in the South of France, where he is currently staging an exhibition of his work at the Printemps de Cahors Photography Festival.

The town is a beautiful, if rather incongruous setting for this annual gathering of avant-garde photographers. The splendour of the 14th-century buildings is a little at odds with the very latest in determinedly experimental photography.

The festival's director, the glamorous Madame Perrin, loves a star to top the bill and for the past two years the principal stars have both been actors-turned-photographers. And it has to be said that Dennis Hopper's retrospective last year was interesting. This year the spotlight is on Hopper's friend, Wenders, another director-turned-photographer. (Hopper starred in Wenders' 1977 movie The American Friend.)

So this is how I come to be talking to Wim Wenders quite early one morning among the olive trees at Madame Perrin's chateau. Sporting shades and looking quite a youthful 53, Wenders is a little hung over. "No-one seemed to want to go to bed last night, so I'm exhausted." He is thoughtful and careful in his speech.

"I was given my first camera when I was six and had a darkroom when I was 12. So I thought about making photographs long before the idea of making movies ever occurred to me," he says. "I always loved to take photographs in black and white. Perhaps that was still with me when I decided to shoot the first part of Wings of Desire, my favourite of my movies, in black and white."

That magical, much-acclaimed film was shot in Berlin at the time the wall came down. The movie changes from black and white to colour when one of the angels falls in love with a circus acrobat, forsaking his immortal status to join her on earth.

Painting is also important to Wenders, as it continues to be to his friend Hopper. Wenders desperately wanted to be a painter, studying in Paris as a young man to achieve his ambition. "I still remember the terrible disappointment when I realised I wasn't going to make it," he says. "For a while afterwards I had no direction."

His description of himself in a dejected, demoralised state, wandering around the streets of Paris, conjures up images of the anxiety and alienation experienced by some of his film characters.

"It was during this very depressed period in my life, I started going to see movies at the Parisian Cinematique, where it only cost one franc to get in. After the first movie was over, I would hide in the toilets, which meant I could see the next film free. I was horribly poor at that time. Often I saw five movies a day - at first to pass the time - but gradually I started to become quite obsessed. Maybe it was an obsession to take me out of this colossal disappointment about failing as a painter. But anyway, that's when the obsession started and it has never gone away".

During this time, Wenders started to jot down what he thought about the films he was watching daily in the Cinematique. Then for the next few years he worked reviewing films. "I'm certain that being a critic helped me come to terms with the whole problem of reacting to criticism. I tend not to get too upset about unfavourable reviews because I am aware of how subjective the whole thing is".

Many of Wenders' movies have been admired for their intense evocation of mood and atmosphere, Paris, Texas especially bringing him international acclaim in the early Eighties. He believes that his awareness of light - undoubtedly an essential element for the creation of ambience in his movies, - was stimulated by taking photographs from an early age.

"Music is the other element that can create ambience in movies. It has been important in all my work," says Wenders, who has just finished making a documentary film about his friend Ry Cooder, whose music featured in Paris, Texas.

Wenders is clearly interested in being taken seriously as a photographer in a way quite distinct from his successful career as movie maker. But the photographs in his Cahors show, entitled "Une fois", are often reminiscent of the carefully-constructed images of his movies. They are all set in different locations at different times - Bali in 1980, California in 1983, Paris in 1994 - making a sort of road movie in stills.

Wenders has recently been working on a film about an alcoholic. He thinks this is why he is intrigued by the work of the young British photographer Richard Billingham, who made a big impact at the Royal Academy's "Sensations" exhibition last autumn.

Billingham, who also has a show at Cahors, focuses much of his work on the life of his dad Ray, who is a chronic alcoholic. With a mixture of detachment and affection, Billingham leaves little to the imagination about the life of a man who has been completely dependent on alcohol for most of his life.

"What is amazing about Billingham's work is how he is able to give an insider's picture of his father's life," Wenders comments. "He is not on the outside looking in. He is right there with his family and knows everything about such a life. It is curiously moving."

Wenders professes to be amazed by his own success. "I sometimes look back to bad times in the past, like when I was in Paris as a young student and felt that I had completely failed in what I had set out to be - a painter.

"I have been very lucky to find another direction for my creativity that has worked. But who knows? I would not like to do anything as an amateur now - but maybe one day I will go back to painting."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk