If You’ve Ever Wanted to Live Inside a Wes Anderson Movie...
This photography book is a close approximation
A blushing pink fire station, perfectly matching the faded sky. A train station in Vietnam's Central Highlands, mustard yellow with red trim and multi-colored windows. A firework stand, brimming with goods, nestled against a cornfield.
In photographs, the colors and compositions and sense of whimsy of these far-flung places all recall the distinctive design of a Wes Anderson film, if only by accident. That's the idea behind Accidentally Wes Anderson, which Wally Koval began as an Instagram feed devoted to images inspired by the native Texan filmmaker, a University of Texas graduate, behind such works as The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. The account eventually evolved into book form – now a bestseller – and Austinites Emily Prestridge, John Langford, and Matthew Johnson are among the 200 contributors whose photos and stories from around the world are featured in the book. (Anderson, unaffiliated with the project, was sporting enough to supply a foreword.)
Prestridge was on a trip to Marfa when she shot her lovely photograph of the Central Fire Station. "[The] color choice combined with a building that traditionally stands for grit, bravery, and strength is attention-grabbing and begs to be captured," she explains. A friend convinced her to submit the photo to the Instagram account, but she didn't expect anything to come of it. A month later, Prestridge was sitting at work when she noticed her phone erupting with notifications. Hundreds of people were suddenly liking her post and she realized her photo had been selected for the popular feed.
Commercial photographer John Langford, a self-described Wes Anderson fan who appreciates the filmmaker's use of symmetry and the "quirky vibe" of his pictures, shot his contribution to the book during an epic trip around the world. After selling everything he owned in Austin, including his house, car, and photo gear, Langford embarked on a three-year journey that took him to 38 countries. He lived out of a backpack for his trip's entirety and shot tens of thousands of images. The photograph featured in the book is of Dalat Train Station, located in a small mountain town in Central Vietnam. "I was wandering around on foot one day and stumbled upon [it]," explains Langford. He says the station's "quirkiness and the colorful blocks on the front, the mustard color, made it jump out at me because it's a deviation from the norm in Vietnam."
Although COVID-19 has temporarily suspended our ability to travel, Langford encourages photographers and non-photographers alike to search for beauty in their home environments. "Look for little details in your everyday life," he advises. "The sunlight that falls across your bed sheets, the interesting tile in your shower, the shadow of a glass of water on your dining table. There are all these beautiful little vignettes that we tend to overlook."
Matthew Johnson contributed a lively photograph of a firework stand, located southeast of Austin, next to an Exxon station, near the intersection of Highway 183 and the SH-45 toll road. The stand is painted white with black and red writing advertising its offerings. Sparklers, roman candles, and rockets, all wrapped in colorful paper, line the stand's white shelves. The image comes from a personal project, Firework Stands Across Texas, that the editorial and commercial photographer started a few years ago.
"I had the idea to travel around and shoot 'portraits' of the stands, along with the people at them," explains Johnson. "The owners were either very welcoming or would tell me I have 10 seconds to get off their property." In the case of the stand included in the book, the owner was open to it. "The lady running the stand was friendly and happy to let me photograph, but she was too shy to pose for a portrait herself, which worked out just fine since the empty stand in the cornfield was as perfect as I could have asked for."
While the photography of Johnson, Prestridge, and Langford showcase real skill and a photographer's fine-tuned attention to detail, their work also reminds us of the charm that is always present around us. "There's inspiration everywhere," says Prestridge, "Even in the mundane. Start with what you have, slow down, really look at the world, and just start shooting."