When Life Looks Like a Wes Anderson Movie
This article is part of our latest Design special report, which is about taking creative leaps in challenging times.
The last shelters on the Marangu route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro are little structures known as Kibo huts, the first built in 1932. When Robert Hune-Kalter, a Colorado-based bank employee, reached the huts, in July 2019, he might have been thinking of nothing but scrambling to the top of Africa’s highest peak. But he found himself admiring their triangular shapes with their steep, green-painted gables and vertical black siding.
“I liked how symmetrical it was,” he said, “and even mentioned to my friend that it reminded me of the symmetry of a Wes Anderson scene.”
After descending, he sent a hut photo to the Instagram account “Accidentally Wes Anderson,” where it joined pictures of pointy roofs taken in Wildwood, N.J.; Siglufjordur, Iceland; and Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory. All these places resembled alternative sets for Mr. Anderson’s 2012 film “Moonrise Kingdom,” a golden-toned story of young love set against rocky shores, lighthouses and scout camping tents.
Mr. Anderson has been making movies since 1994, and their looks, from costumes to color palette, from sets to signage, have become increasingly stylized. A lover of the nostalgic and the exotic, he composes tableaus out of Eastern European baroque architecture and candy-box colors (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), antiquated trains and custom Louis Vuitton luggage (“The Darjeeling Limited”) and retro technology and marine blues (“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”). Every shot is framed, propped and scripted to be as pretty as a picture.
Wally Koval, the founder of “Accidentally Wes Anderson,” calls the account’s more than one million followers “Adventurers.” But while it takes you to the top (Kilimanjaro) and bottom (Goudier Island, Antarctica) of the world, it also frames architectural bonbons closer to civilization and provides inspiration for your own homes, which might do with a dash of dreaminess in these dreary times.
The adventure is in finding real places that look like they could be in the films, Mr. Koval writes in the introduction to a book based on the Instagram that is due out in October and also called “Accidentally Wes Anderson.”
Written by Mr. Koval and his wife, Amanda Koval, and published by Voracious, an imprint of Little, Brown, the book includes images of Airstream trailers and retro rail cars, viewfinders and glamorous pools, all captured by 182 international (and largely amateur) photographers. Mr. Hune-Kalter’s Kibo hut photo appears on page 251, along with a short history of Kilimanjaro mountaineering.
Perhaps most amazing of all, Mr. Anderson has blessed the project and, it seems, been inspired by the idea of doing a little adventuring himself. As the director writes in his foreword, “The photographs in this book were taken by people I have never met, of places and things I have, almost without exception, never seen — but I must say: I intend to.”
Mr. Koval, 36, a former content marketer, initially spotted locations that looked as if they could be in a Wes Anderson movie on a subreddit in 2017. He reposted the pictures to his personal Instagram as visual notes for his own travel intentions.
He has tried to maintain the sense of shared visual language and discovery, even as the Instagram feed has blossomed into a brand of its own. “I have lost count of the amount of times my friends have said, ‘Oh Claire, that’s so Accidentally,’” said Claire Walker (@thesilvercherry), a London careers adviser who discovered the account, accidentally of course, in 2017. “I think I can safely say that I was taking Accidentallyesque photos before I discovered the AWA platform.”
What makes an Accidentally photo? Steeples, lighthouses, theaters, wedding-cake hotels, outdated technology and, most predictably, the color pink, so rarely seen in typical architectural discourse.
Matt Zoller Seitz, New York magazine’s television critic and the author of four books on Mr. Anderson’s work, said he believed that the Instagram feed helped to fill a gap.
“One of the things I constantly harp on in my criticism is I wish more film and TV critics would pay attention to form as well as content,” he said. “The Wes Anderson fan base is interested in both, and they understand the filmmaker’s style and personality so well they can be walking around out there in the world and say, ‘Oh that looks like a Wes Anderson shot.’”
Mr. Zoller Seitz has done it himself, having once being seized by the mirror-image symmetry in a hotel lobby in Montreal. The irony, he said, is that most of Mr. Anderson’s recent films have been shot on sets, not in the real world, so the Adventurers are finding visual order amid global chaos.
“People say he is a control-freak director,” Mr. Zoller Seitz said of Mr. Anderson. “His characters are obsessed with everything being just so. But in the end the lesson is that is not possible.” Or, as the Instagram suggests, only possible for the moment of tapping the camera button. Then the wind shifts, the people move, the symmetry is lost.
The same stillness that arrests the eye while watching a film stops the swiping finger on Instagram. “On social media, nothing stands out until you get to that Wes Anderson symmetrical shot,” said Jeffrey Czum (@jeffreyczum), who works for a tech start-up in Buffalo and contributed the image of a faded shell-pink lighthouse on the uninhabited Caribbean island of Little Curaçao on page 72. “The viewer knows exactly where to look. You don’t have to question; you don’t have to overthink.”
“It’s like being a traveler every morning,” said Matthew Dickey (@_madickey_), another follower. “Where are we going to go today?”
Mr. Dickey, who is the communications and operations manager for the Boston Preservation Alliance, sees a parallel between his work “trying to tell stories of places in Boston” and what happens Accidentally.
“You might not be able to find the beauty in a Boston triple-decker,” he said, referring to a type of apartment building, “but you can pull into a detail of the architecture, a pastel-colored door, the wallpaper you find inside, a historic stairwell. AWA gets people to explore and see the details and stories a bit more deeply.”
In this time of quarantine, the lush book, with the photos clustered geographically, reads even more strongly as a wish list.
Right now, “You can’t travel but you can explore the stuff around you,” Mr. Koval said. “Literally four miles away from here” — his current home in a cottage in rural New Jersey — “there is a lake that has an island that has a church on it from the 1800s.”
Thanks to a tip from an Adventurer, the Kovals think they have a way to access the private lake, planting a virtual flag on another site that could be straight out of Wes Anderson.
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