(re)post #6 "...just listen to your eyes."

© WIM WENDERS, "To Shoot Pictures", in "ONCE", NY, 2001

To shoot pictures.
Taking pictures is an act in time,
in which something is snapped out of its own time
and transferred into a different kind of duration.
It is commonly assumed
that whatever is captured in this act
lies IN FRONT OF the camera.
But that is not true.
Taking pictures is an act in two directions:
AND backwards.
Yes, taking pictures also "backfires".
This isn't even too lame a comparison.
Just as the hunter lifts his rifle,
aims at the deer in front of him,
pulls the trigger,
and, when the bullet departs from the muzzle,
is thrown backwards by the recoil,
the photographer, likewise, is thrown backwards,
onto himself,
when releasing the shutter.
A photograph is always a double image,
showing, at first glance, its subject,
but at a second glance - more or less visible,
"hidden behind it", so to speak,
the "reverse angle":
the picture of the photographer
in action.

Just as the hunter is not struck by the bullet, though,
but only feels the recoil of the explosion,
this counter-image contained in every photograph
is not actually captured by the lens, either.
(Yet it remains somehow inextricably in the picture,
as an invisible impression of the photographer
that even gets developed within the dark room chemistry…)

What then is the recoil of the photographer?
How do you feel its impact?
How does it affect the subject
and which trace of it appears on the photograph?
In German, there is a most revealing word
for this phenomenon,
a word known from a variety of contexts:
It means the attitude
in which someone approaches something,
psychologically or ethically,
i.e. the way of attuning yourself
and then "taking it in".
But "Einstellung" is also a term from photography and film
signifying both the "take" (a particular shot and its framing),
as well as how the camera is adjusted
in terms of the aperture and exposure
by which the cameraman "takes" the picture.

It is no coincidence
that (at least in German) the same word defines both
the attitude
and the picture thus produced.
Every picture indeed
reflects the attitude
of whoever took it.

So the rifleman's recoil
corresponds to the photographer's portrait
that is more or less visible "behind the picture,
only instead of capturing his (or her) features,
it defines the photographer's ATTITUDE
towards whatever was in front of him (or her).

The camera therefore is an eye
capable of looking forward and backward
at the same time.
Forwards, it does in fact "shoot a picture,
backwards, it records a vague shadow,
sort of an x-ray of the photographer's mind,
by looking straight through his (or her) eye
to the bottom of his (or her) soul.
Yes, forwards, a camera sees its subject,
backwards it sees the wish
to capture this particular subject in the first place,
thereby showing simultaneously THE 'I'HINGS
and THE DESIRE for them.

Every second,
somewhere in the world,
someone releases a shutter
capturing something
because he (or she) is fascinated by a certain LIGHT
or simply because a SITUATION
wants to me captured.

The subjects of photography,
Are countless,
Multiplied to infinity by every second thet passes.

Still, each and every moment of picture-taking,
Wherever in the world it takes place,
Is a single event,
Its uniqueness
Guaranteed by the incessant progress of time.
(Even the zillions of tourists snapshots
at those specially assigned “photo opportunities”
are each a one-time only event.
Even in its most trivial and commonplace moments
Time remains irreversible.)

What is astonishing with each and every photograph
Is not so much that it “freezes time”
- as people commonly think -
but that on the contrary
time proves with every picture anew
HOW unstoppable and perpetual it is.

Every photograph is a memento mori.
Every photograph talks about life and death.
Every “picture captured” as an aura of sacredness,
Transcends the eye of its photographer,
And exceeds all human capacity:
Every photo is also an act of creation
Outside of time,
from God’s perspective, so to speak,
recalling that increasingly forgotten commandment:
“Thou shalt not graven images”

To take pictures
(rather: to have the incredible privilege of taking pictures)
is “too good to be true”.
But just as well it is
too true to be good.
Taking pictures is always an act of presumption
and rebellion.
Taking pictures thus quickly instils greed
And so much less often modesty.
(That is the reason why the attitude of “bragging”
is much more common in photography
than the attitude of “humbleness”.)

If, thus, a camera shoots in two directions,
forward and backward
merging both pictures
so that the “back” dissolves in tne “front”,
it allows the photographer
at the very moment of shooting
to be in front with the subjects,
rather than separated from them.
Through the “viewfinder”
The view can step out of his shell
to be “on the other side”
of the world,
and thereby remember better, understand better,
see better,
hear better,
and love more deeply.
(and, alas, despise more deeply, too.
The “evil eye”, after all, exists as well.)

Within every photograph
There is also the beginning of a story
Starting with “Once upon a time…”.
Every photograph is the first frame of a movie.
Often the next moment,
the next realease of the shutter a few steps further on,
the subsequent image, that is,
is already tracing this story’s progress
in its very own space
and its very own time.
So over the years, at least to me,
taking pictures has more and more turned
into “tracing stories”.
(This is why this book
contains more series of pictures
than single stills.)
With every second picture the “montage” is already on the way,
And the story that as announced itself in the first piscture
is now moving into its own direction,
defining its sense of space
and portending its sense of time.
Sometimes new actors appear,
sometimes the alleged lead
proves to be just a supporting part,
and sometimes no person at all is at the centre,
but a landscape.

I firmly believe
In the story-building power
of landscapes.
There are landscapes,
be them cities, deserts, mountains or coasts,
that literally cry out for “their stories” to be told.
They evoke them, even make them happen.
Landscapes can be leading characters themselves
and the people in it the extras.

I believe just as firmly
in the narrative power of props.
An open newspaper, casually lying in the corner of a photograph,
can relate so much!
A billboard in the background!
The rusty car
protruding into one side of the picture!
A chair!
Standing there in such a way
that someone must have been sitting on it only moments ago!
An open book on a table
With half of its title legible!
The empty cigarette box on the sidewalk!
The coffee cup with the spoon in it!
On photographs, THINGS can be serene or sad,
even comic or tragic.

Let alone clothes!
In many pictures, they are the most interesting part.
The sagging sock on a child’s ankle!
The turned-up collar of a man
Who can only see from behind!
Sweat stains!
Patches darned and mended!
Missing buttons!
A crispy ironed shirt!
A woman’s life
all summarized in her dress,
Her entire life showing in the suffering of a dress!
A person’s drama
conveyed by a coat!
Clothes indicate the temperature of a picture,
the date,
the time of day,
Time of war or time of peace.

And all of it appears in front of the camera just ONCE,
and every photograph turns this ONCE into an eternity.
the captured picture does time become visible
and in the tome span
BETWEEN the first shot and the second
The story emerges,
a story that, were it not for these pictures,
would have slipped into oblivion
for the same eternity.

Just as we want to disappear,
at the very moment of taking the picture,
out into the world
and into the things,
the world and the things now leap out of the photograph
at the beholder,
seeking to survive and to last there.
It is “THERE” that the stories come about,
In the eye
of the beholder.

I hope
this photobook
will become a storybook.
It isn’t yet –
But it can become one
if you just listen to your eyes.

© WIM WENDERS, "To Shoot Pictures", in "ONCE", NY, 2001

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