Moving pictures

The Prague Post

Leica Gallery is on the move again with film director Wim Wenders

Leica Gallery Prague takes to the rails again this summer with an exhibit that opened last week at Hlavní Nádraží, the city’s main train station, featuring photos by film director Wim Wenders and his wife, Donata. This is the third annual show in three converted train cars, which have been the gallery’s only exhibition space since it lost its lease at Prague Castle.

The setting, with the constant background hum of platform announcements, rattling tracks and general train station bedlam, has its pluses and minuses.

“As a part of Leica Gallery [worldwide], we belong with the best and most popular photo exhibits around the world, and we have to keep this standard,” says Adéla Kubícková, the gallery’s marketing director. “A train station is not always the best place.”

At the same time, the unorthodox space opens up some interesting possibilities. “We can do things that you can’t do inside a gallery,” Kubícková notes. “We reach a wider public; some people would never go to a gallery, but they come here. This is good, really good.”

The train cars were the brainchild of Leica Gallery Director Jana Bömerová, who convinced Czech Railways that a traveling exhibition would be a good idea, and got permission to reconstruct three fairly ruined cars into a mobile gallery space at a cost of 1.2 million Kc ($57,000). She has kept a “real gallery” feel as much as possible, with professional lighting and gallery-quality exhibits.

Entering the first car this year, viewers are greeted with primary colors and photos from the set of Buena Vista Social Club. Wenders’ documentary about a group of Cuban musicians brought together by guitarist Ry Cooder to record and play in the United States. A flat-screen television shows trailers for Buena Vista Social Club and The Million Dollar Hotel, the second movie featured in the exhibit, as well as Wings of Desire, an award-winning older film of Wenders’. There are also shots from the past two years’ exhibits and photos of the train cars before they were renovated.

In the second car, which is devoted to Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban rhythms from the film’s soundtrack provide an inviting background. The photos are a beautiful mix, taken by both Wenders and his wife, of portraits and Havana street scenes. A mix of black-and-white and color formats depict people and settings ranging from the kindly, wrinkled face of an old Cuban musician to smiling children in front of formerly stately, now-crumbling building. The walls are painted red and cream, a fitting backdrop for photos from Cuba that celebrate music and life in a poor country.

Shades of blue dominate the third car, which is devoted to The Million Dollar Hotel. The photos, taken by Donata Wenders during the shooting of the film, have more of a “movie set” feel than the previous series. The emotions she captured on the faces of the actors pull the viewer in, and create a more anxious atmosphere than the upbeat Cuban photos. A soundtrack by Bono adds to the poignant feel. (The film is based on a concept story by Bono that tells the tale of a group of very different people, all living in a Los Angeles hotel.)

Leica Gallery does only one exhibit a year. It takes about half a year to prepare the show, which then goes on the rails for the second half. This year’s itinerary includes stops in Karlovy Vary in late June to coincide with the international film festival, and in Uherské Hradište in the middle of July for the summer film school there. Other stops range from major cities such as Brno and Plzen; to smaller towns including Jindhuv Hradec and Mladá Boleslav.

“Small cities don’t get to see this type of photography,” Bömerová notes. “Because we only do one show, it must be special.”

So far, she feels, the exhibits have measured up.

“The first year we showed social documentary photographs by Sebastiao Salgado,” she says. “The second year we showed portraits by Antonín Kratochvíl. This year it’s photos from movies.”

The first year, the train went to Slovakia as well. Last year, Austria was added to its touring schedule. Kubícková is hoping she can take this year’s exhibit to Slovakia and Germany.

But, no matter where the train is parked, the appeal of the show remains the same.

“I was so happy during the installation period,” Bömerová says with a smile. “The feeling of Cuba, if you have good photos, you want to visit the place yourself. The photos from Million Dollar Hotel are mysterious and melancholy. With photos, you can see and think what you like — and this is possible with these pictures.”

But, while Bömerová greatly enjoyed arranging the exhibit, there’s something she enjoys even more, which is evident as she jumps up to greet another visitor.

“I love to sell tickets,” she says. “That means it’s done.”

Treat yourself to a visit to the train station before this year’s exhibit is done in Prague.