Wim Wenders on his Polaroids – and why photography is now over

By Sean O'Hagan

Vigils for John Lennon, road trips with Annie Liebovitz, portraits of Dennis Hopper … Wim Wenders took thousands of Polaroids while making his classic films. He shares the stories behind them

Wim Wenders reckons he took more than 12,000 Polaroids between 1973 and 1983, when his career as a film-maker really took off, but only 3,500 remain. “The thing is,” he says, “you gave them away. You had the person in front of you, whose picture you had just taken, and it was like they had more right to it. The Polaroids helped with making the movies, but they were not an aim in themselves. They were disposable.”

Four decades on, the Photographers' Gallery in London is about to host an extensive exhibition of Wenders's early Polaroids called Instant Stories. They date from that prolific period in the 1970s that produced now classic films such as The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, Alice in the Cities and The American Friend. Many capture moments in the making of these movies, but others are records of the places he travelled through: cities, small towns, deserts, highways and hotels. Like his films, they all possess a melancholic romanticism. “My first reaction was, ‘Wow! Where did this all come from?' I had forgotten about so much of it. I realised I had been taking pictures like a maniac.”

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