154MC: ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ Review

154MC: Wim Wenders: ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’

‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ by Filmmaker and spare-time Photographer Wim Wenders. This is a landscape photography book published in 2011 that explores beautifully dynamic panoramic landscapes, banal buildings and other exteriors.

Wenders photographic book features a range of images taken around the world during day or night. Wim Wenders, a German director, started taking these images in the 80s “Scouting for locations for his film Paris Texas in 1984, Wim Wenders has been building up a large body of photographic work”[1]. The book itself was seemingly the result of his wanderings as he scouted for film locations. The photographs themselves have been taken from all around the globe including Italy, America, Japan, Moscow and Germany (unsurprisingly).

The book itself does not open with an introduction but rather the back of the cover sleeve explains Wenders intensions through a beautiful quote that offers insight into the title of the book “When you travel a lot, and when you love to just wander around and get lost, you can end up in the most unusual spots…I don’t know, it must be some sort of built-in radar, that often directs me to places that strangely quiet, or quietly strange”[2].

The presentation itself excites me as it takes on two interesting additions that really separate it from the traditional page-turning book. Firstly, it has a sleeve that doesn’t bind the book but wraps it. Secondly, some pages in the book fold outwards to reveal the bigger picture. This is used to show the extensive landscapes or areas of graffiti than span a long area, allowing the reader to feel totally immersed in Wenders wondering adventures.

Generally feedback on this book seems positive, however Suzanna LaBarre has offered a more critical review, opening her article with a quote from film critic Pauline Kael “Wim Wenders has created some of the moodiest, most visually arresting landscapes in film history — a tone Pauline Kael described perfectly, referring to Wings of Desire, as “dim whimsy” and “spooky spirituality.” Leave it to Wenders to make a Ferris wheel look about as cheery as a death march”[3]. I am unsure as to whether these two contrasting comments is leading to a positive or negative outcome however I feel LaBarre’s use of Kael’s criticism is unnecessary as it refers to Wim Wenders film ‘Wing of Desire’ and has no relevancy to his photographic contribution and also does not support her argument at all. A fellow student photographer, Stephen Ma offered his opinion on the book. During book club, Stephen introduced the book and described the photographs as “post-apocalyptic”[4] an interesting comment as it could to be based almost entirely from initial judgement of the cover sleeves main image, a Ferris wheel that looks convincingly similar to the iconic abandoned Ferris wheel in Fukushima but is in fact Armenian.

‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ is not the only photographic work that Wenders has presented, ‘Pictures from the Surface of the Earth’ published September 25th 2006, presents more of what Wim Wenders wonderings have to offer. It is described on Wenders website as “landscapes stretch into infinity, horizons divide the world into water, earth and air, deserts and mountain ranges are overwhelming in their emptiness and silence, street fronts, whether in Havana, Houston, Texas or Berlin, draw our gaze to the very depths of civilization or to the abyss of horror.”[5] One could argue that this comment on ‘Pictures from the Surface of the Earth’ applies to ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ as they both explore infinite landscapes, touching on civilisation and the themes of emptiness or even absence of human presence. The absence shown is Wenders work is evident by the almost total lack of the physical presence of humans and instead prefers to document the infrastructures and territorial marks created by them such as graffiti and apartment buildings. The effect of this is a sense of abandonment felt by the viewers as they are being given an insight into a lost world.

I was discovered that an image entitled ‘The Old Jewish Quarter’ is used in both ‘Pictures’ and ‘Places’; this repetition of a photograph shows the obvious success of the image.

A textual feature personal to the photographer is the inclusion of Wender’s native language, German and the translation into English. This is shown on the back of the cover sleeve that includes a quote as well as a brief summary of the book. English-German translation is also used in the very last pages of the book, which contains an expansion of information on each image. Every photograph in ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ has a number and often a title or quote to accompany it, these can then be referenced in the back pages, which can then be expended upon to show the full name, date, print type and dimensions. This could entice the reader to pursue finding out more information, it’s also particularly helpful for people such as myself who would like to further explore the images or view an online exhibition.

An example of how Wender’s exhibited ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ was beautifully presented at the GLStrand in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2014. In the exhibition, the iconic image of the Ferris wheel is exhibited simply as a large panoramic, image and like the others, is presented in a simple black frame with a white inside border [6]. I adore the simple method used to display this work, however if I was to be particularly critical I would say that the blandness of the venue could sometimes drain the images of life rather than enhance them; I would say that a touch of colour to the venue might add some vibrancy that would help to celebrate Wenders work. In terms of reaction to the exhibition, it was described as “Wenders’s ability to bring out the unique character” showing “mankind’s influence on a landscape that continues to develop and change”­[7] which presents a positive viewpoint of display and supports my argument on human absence.

Conclusively, I believe Wim Wenders ‘Places, Strange and Quiet’ to be an excellent book that has shown it’s capabilities to be a breath-taking exhibition. The modes of presentation, such as the inclusion of outward folding pages and a cover sleeve, are small deviations from the traditional style but these additions make all the difference to engage the readers. I find the use of a quote by Wenders to be a nice addition, however an introduction would have been helpful because a quote is only an insight into the full mind of the quota. Overall, I think this book is a book worth losing yourself in.


[1]Creative Review (2015) Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet [Online] http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2011/april/wim-wenders-places-strange-and-quiet [14th April 2011] [Accessed 5th April 2015]

[2] Wenders, W. (2011) Wim Wenders. Edited by L. Schmidt. Haunch of Venison, London: Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern.

[3] Fast Co.Design (2015) Wim Wenders’s Travel Photography, As Haunting And Beautiful As His Films [Online]http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663666/wim-wenderss-travel-photography-as-haunting-and-beautiful-as-his-films [Accessed 5th April 2015]

[4] Ma, S. (2015) Photo-Book Club, 2015

[5] Wenders Images (2015) Pictures from the Surface of the Earth [Online] http://www.wendersimages.com/ausstellungen/bvdode.php?location=hb&lang=en [Accessed 7th April 2015]

[6] GLStrand (2014) Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet [online] http://www.glstrand.dk/udstillinger/arkiv/2014/wim-wenders.aspx [accessed 23rd April 2015]

[7] E-flux.com, (2015) Wim Wenders | E-Flux [online] available from <http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/wim-wenders/&gt; [27 April 2015]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s