German born, Hong Kong residing photographer Michael Wolf’s most well known work is probably his project Hong Kong; Architecture of Density. Mind boggling, the photographic series explores the density and all together wonderful peculiarity, of life in Hong Kong. A selection of the pictures went viral about a year ago, and understandably at that. The series is not only fascinating, whilst vaguely unnerving, but stunning as well. Wolf captures patterns and beauty hiding in plain sight, just by focussing his lens discerningly about the many structures and in-betweens of the jam packed cityscapes.
Photo: Michael Wolf
Further on from his Hong Kong series, is a project which contains some of my personal favourites. Called Life in Cities, the collection features images in the same vein as the previous one (density), but scours all over. Everywhere from Paris to Tokyo. Wolf’s perspective of a busy Parisian skyline is almost severe, lined with pressed tin and cuboid boxes, it is a far cry from the usual romanticism the city inspires. The dull greys and grimy whites are punctuated by little terra cotta chimneys, but if you look close enough you can spy the odd pigeon or even some quirky graffiti.
A completely different slant on density presents itself in the Tokyo Compression collection of the Life in Cities series. No rooftops or chimneys, or scarcely any free space at all, can be seen in the almost-bursting scenes photographed in the Tokyo underground. Faces pressed against foggy glass and discomfort painted all over the expressions of those squashed in, the pictures humanise the density. By running the gamut of emotion-from hurried business men and women, to bored children and those resigned to the reality of the situation-you are faced with the truths behind the bustling riot of city life.
In Transparent City, any fear you’ve ever had about just who might be able to see you through an open window, rears itself. A study on the glass monoliths of Chicago, the photographs are taken at different points throughout the day. The honeyed light of dusk casting over one scene, gives a completely different mood to another taken in the dark of night. The partner to the wide shots, is Transparent City Details – faces and moments stolen through the windows of the buildings photographed in the former. There’s nothing particularly sordid or salacious about it; someone watching television and another having a particularly unproductive night at the office, for instance. It is voyeuristic, but life is. And life in cities? You’re virtually never alone and almost never unseen.
Michael Wolf is obviously a valuable artist for his unique perspective, but one of the things which I find to be particularly engaging about his work is that he doesn’t take it, or himself, too seriously. Every so often you will spy the odd middle finger salute, or a sneering face will pop up – unexpected, but not jarring. He has terrific fun with his subjects, both human and inanimate, and it makes his work that much more riveting. You can see more of Michael Wolf’s work at his website, photomichaelwolf.com.
Additional Photos: Michael Wolf