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Life in megacities: Michael Wolf's photography

Rayna Breuer eg
January 21, 2019

Dense and compressed: Life in Hong Kong or Tokyo is challenging for its inhabitants. German photographer Michael Wolf has explored their reality through his award-winning works, now on show in Hamburg.

17. NOVEMBER 2018 - 3. MÄRZ 2019
HAUS DER PHOTOGRAPHIE Deichtorhallen Hamburg
Image: Michael Wolf 2018

Monotonous, static, colossal: A large-format photo of a residential complex in Hong Kong reveals neither the sky nor the ground, "giving the viewers of the work the impression that they are right in the middle of this huge metropolis," says Ingo Taubhorn, curator of the exhibition "Michael Wolf: Life in Cities" at the House of Photography in Hamburg's Deichtorhallen art museum.

The retrospective of the award-winning documentary photographer's career includes photos from his beginnings as a student as well as his most recent works, shown publicly for the first time.

Throughout his oeuvre, the photographer has explored topics such as mass consumption, privacy and overpopulation, showing how people live in major cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chicago and Paris.

Visiting Hong Kong's darker side

Painting or photography?

"Michael Wolf does not reinvent photography; he uses it in a very simple way. He approaches reality without manipulating it. He's just an observer, but one with an incredible sense of particular situations," says Taubhorn, who is particularly impressed by the series "Tokyo Compression." "Michael Wolf took these pictures at a specific subway station in Tokyo, photographing people who travel long distances every day to get to their job. The photos are both disturbing and fascinating at the same time."

Another one of the photographer's famous series, "Architecture of Density," is also on show in Hamburg. It focuses on the architecture of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. As the facades are photographed from a certain distance, the patterns almost create the impression that it's a painting. You only notice upon a closer look that there are people on the balconies, for example hanging their laundry, points out the curator of the exhibition.

Ausstellung MICHAEL WOLF - LIFE IN CITIES17. NOVEMBER 2018 - 3. MÄRZ 2019HAUS DER PHOTOGRAPHIE Deichtorhallen Hamburg
A self-portrait of the photographer in the Tokyo subway Image: Michael Wolf 2018

The beginnings

Born in 1954 in Munich, Michael Wolf was given his first camera 14 years later, as a birthday present from his parents.

He spent his childhood and youth in the US and Canada, but studied photography in Essen, Germany, where he then worked as a freelance documentary photographer.

He later moved to Hong Kong, working among other for the German magazine Stern. His stays in major cities such as Hong Kong and Paris, inspired him to further explore the extreme density, anonymity and dynamics of everyday life in megacities.

The exhibition "Michael Wolf: Life in Cities" is on show until March 3 in the House of Photography in Hamburg.


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