Book Review: Written in The West

Wim Wenders Written in the West Revisted.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I’m one of those people who had never seen Paris, Texas until recently. I watched it a few weeks ago and was immediately blown away by the beautiful cinematography and use of colour throughout. When I learnt that the director, Wim Wenders, was also a photographer, I started to do some research and discovered his photobook, Written in The West.

Prior to shooting Paris, Texas in the early 80s, Wenders set out on an epic road trip of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, looking for locations and subjects. Interestingly, during that trip he used his Leica to capture the material he needed for Paris, Texas, but he used a medium-format Plaubel Makina 67 to make the photographs in this book, purely for pleasure.

Some of the images have a similar urban streetscape feel that one would associate with Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces, but there is a noticeable originality to the way Wenders recorded the scenes he encountered. As a European, he didn’t have the same in-built desire to road trip as part of the American dream in the way that Shore did. That could be one of the reasons the two bodies of work appear distinct.

The photographs are atmospheric, thought-provoking, and evoke strong feelings of nostalgia for a very different time that isn’t really that long ago. They are deep in colour, rich in contrast, and span a wide variety of subjects from lush interiors to mysterious portraits. One of my favourites is the Coca-Cola machine beneath the painting in the lounge of the hotel in Gila Bend, Arizona. Another is the portrait of the old man in front of the flaking Hot Springs sign in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in documentary photography or the American vernacular.

View all my reviews.

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