Last week, we learned of the passing of photographer Michael Wolf at the age of 64. In 2017, we published this text by Marc Feustel.
German photographer Michael Wolf’s started his series entitled Life in Cities in 2011. His projects document both the architecture and the vernacular culture of metropolises.
It is in Hong Kong, the city that became his home in Asia, that Wolf has found his greatest source of inspiration. His first personal project in the city, Architecture of Density (2003–14), uses the city’s iconic skyscraping tower blocks to great effect, eliminating the sky and horizon line to flatten each image and turn these facades into infinite abstractions.
Since 2003, Wolf has constructed a sprawling photographic archive of Hong Kong life at street level entitled Informal Solutions, a reference to the resourcefulness of city dwellers in even the most restricted public spaces. The series is a visual collection of a dizzying array of fragments from the city streets: […] Wolf is able to reveal the surprising diversity of the urban ecosystem, capturing the beauty of the vernacular while simultaneously illustrating China’s concern with functionality over form.
Arriving in Paris in 2008, he encountered a city with few signs of contemporary life on its surface. Its static form, frozen in the nineteenth century by its Haussmannian architecture, and the weight of its photographic past convinced him of the need to find a new photographic approach. He took to the rooftops to find an expression of the city’s character. The formal abstractions of Paris Rooftops (2014) flatten the rooftops into multi-layered compositions in which chimneys and television antennae jostle for position.
The question of the role of the photographer is perhaps most evident in Tokyo Compression (2010–13). In this series, he aims his camera at captive passengers pressed against the windows of the crammed Tokyo subway. These images are made with a “no exit” photographic style, trapping the gaze of the viewer within the frame just as the passengers are unable to escape the confinement of these temporary cells.
Shooting from public rooftops [in Chicago] over the course of several months, Transparent City (2006) adopted a similar visual approach to his architectural work in Hong Kong. However, the facades of Chicago’s buildings give a very different result: the city is far less dense than Hong Kong, thereby giving a greater sense of depth to the images, while the transparency of its glass skyscrapers allows the life within them to seep out.
Marc Feustel is an independent curator, writer and editor based in Paris.