“We haven’t located us yet.”
A verdant island full of young Khaki Scouts called New Penzance. The tidy inner workings of a submarine named the Belafonte. A decadent hotel in a country known as Zubrowka.
Wes Anderson’s films are set in alternate worlds, places where colors are more vibrant and lives are more interesting. In a way of life imitating art imitating life, the settings of the auteur’s movies have become the focus for a niche group of explorers.
Enter Wally Koval.
Wally grew up in Delaware, went to school in Philadelphia, and moved to Brooklyn for a single year after graduation that turned into 11 before he knew it. Every Sunday, he and his fiancé celebrate their made up holiday of “Domingo Cultural,” a day to try new food, explore a new neighborhood, or head out of the city. That’s where Wally’s passion lived: travel.
Wally had also always been a devoted fan of Wes Anderson’s work. He admired how the filmmaker could evoke emotion through setting — so much so that it inspired him to pursue his own journeys to Paris, Budapest, and India, among other places. It was on those journeys — full of sights and places that were so very similar to the locations in his favorite filmmaker’s movies — that the seeds of an idea were planted.
One night in the summer of 2017, Wally happened upon a subreddit dedicated to real-life locations that looked like they could have appeared in Wes Anderson’s movies. A pale-pink subway station, a bright-blue hotel, a glowing room at the MET in New York City — photo after photo after photo captured the color schemes, symmetry, and composition that Wes Anderson is known for.
Wally wanted to know more — about where these places were, when they were built, and if he could visit them. He started digging. And in that research he unearthed completely unexpected narratives about these lovely locations that had captured his imagination. There was so much more to them than their pretty facades.
Click. Everything came together.
Almost immediately, Wally created an Instagram account called Accidentally Wes Anderson.
He saw the account as a visual exploration and lookbook for travelers, adventurers, and those who appreciate the unique, the symmetrical, and the atypical. It was a way to feature incredible photographers and encourage the greater Wes Anderson community to come along and discover what’s behind the world’s most beautiful settings — places that look like they belong in one of his movies.
“The beauty of the project is that the intersection of distinctive design and unique narrative that we call ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’ can be found literally anywhere in the world,” says Wally.
And he’s not wrong. A simple scroll through the feed shows places from Germany to Antarctica, Ho Chi Minh City to Uruguay, and Minnesota to India. While the locations in films like “the Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Moonrise Kingdom” may not be entirely real, the places featured on the Accidentally Wes Anderson Instagram certainly are.
The feed is filled with locales that seem to exist in the same visually-appealing world, which makes them appear as if they were taken by the same photographer — though, in reality, they’re not. They possess incredible similarities but distinct differences, too.
“What makes them all similar is that each location is much more than just a beautiful facade,” Wally explains. “When you peel back the initial layer of the aesthetically pleasing structure, that’s where you find the real magic.”
After launching the account, Wally began digging into the history of each place in these accidental photos, learning the facts and stories about the facades that a simple image couldn’t reveal.
Yet for a photo to be considered for Accidentally Wes Anderson, it first and foremost has to look the part.
“What I find most fascinating are the multiple layers and stories that lie behind the visually stunning locations he typically features,” Wally says. “That’s exactly what we are trying to bring to life through this project.”
“We” being Wally and his fiancé Amanda, who helps him run the account.
Together, they spend hours combing through submissions and hashtags for the perfect photos.
Wally finds himself drawn to scenes that have a pastel-based color palette that juxtaposes natural elements. Amanda, on the other hand, is pulled toward grandiose interiors and detailed Baroque facades.
But there’s also something intangible in each photo: a Wes Anderson air that’s hard to describe.
“It’s that wildcard attribute that is difficult to put your finger on,” Wally offers. “But, simply put, you know it when you see it. Those are some of our favorite finds.”
A rotary payphone, an old photo booth, a bright yellow mailbox, a hunter green clawfoot tub — it’s often in the simplest images that Wally finds that indescribable element.
After choosing a photo, Wally and Amanda dive into the captioning process. They look into the historical background of the subject matter, a process that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two whole weeks. Each picture they feature must have both elements — the right visual aesthetic and an intriguing narrative.
“We strive for the feed to serve as a mosaic of sorts,” Wally says. “Balancing certain types of structures, color schemes, and even geographic locations to ensure a diverse compilation. Whether the photo was taken by a professional or budding photographer, we like to think that every frame is equally as important as the next.”
The care that Wally and Amanda put into managing Accidentally Wes Anderson is evident. In less than a year, they’ve grown a community of over 330,000 followers on Instagram and cultivated a community they fondly call “AWA.”
They’re proud of the impact the project seems to have had on people — encouraging both longtime Wes Anderson fans and newcomers to see the world just a little differently.
“We love to instill a new appreciation for an interesting destination or structure, especially if it’s in someone’s home city, that they may not have known even existed. We hope this project will serve as an inspiration for members of the AWA community to plan their own adventures.”
Wally isn’t sure if Wes Anderson has seen the account himself, but if the filmmaker were to come across the project, Wally hopes he would see how much happiness it brings the AWA community.
“So many people from around the world love and appreciate his work, and now they are enjoying looking at and sharing their daily surroundings from that slightly different perspective,” Wally explains. “An old phone booth that is passed by and ignored day-in and day-out may now serve as a source of inspiration and intrigue because it reminds someone of a certain visual aesthetic. And that, of course, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Wes himself.”