Sunday, 29 January 2023

Tokyo Compression: Michael Wolf

 As we have been studying urban photography, one of the photographers that we looked at in class was Micheal Wolf, we looked at the Architecture of Density (2014) this piece examined through the photograph; 'the structural urban fabric of the city of Hong Kong is one of the most astonishingly condensed, populated and vertical in the world, propelling its edifices soaring into the sky to contend with the lack of lateral space' (designboom, 2015)  These images really explored the idea of living claustrophobically close to others and when I was out taking pictures I looked for images that might have hints of this in Leicester to include in my own work however Leicester although it has quite a high-density population with 4,494 people per kilometer (Leicester Population 2023) in Hong Kong (as below) it is 7140 per kilometer. (Hong Kong Population Live 2023)

Micheal Wolf (2014) Architecture of Density

Considering further the work on Micheal Wolf I will explore the work in his project Tokyo Compression (2010) these images were; 'were photographed at Shimo-Kitazawa station in Tokyo over a four-year period.' (Flowers Gallery 2017) the images were all taken through the small glass windows of the subway train framing within the frame the subjects of this 'subsurface hell' (LensCulture, 2015)

In this image the woman's face presses against the glass, her hair is stuck to the condensation on the window, and she has her eyes closed making it look as if she could be dead or maybe just trying to block out the horror.  A woman trapped in this has many implications for her physical and mental health, such close proximity to others pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable to anyone, and as a woman has the potential to be even worse if standing close to the wrong man.   Consider also that this image taken by Wolf is voyeuristic, not only is she experiencing the hell of this train she is also being photographed from the outside and now we stare at her, taking in her suffering and pain, Artsy states that;'voyeurism has emerged as a central theme of Wolf’s works.' (Artsy:2010) We are now in collusion with the photographer staring into the painful beauty of this shot, the woman leans her head to the side of the image which gives the shot an asymmetry that makes it even more pleasing to look at.  The water of the condensation gives it a soft focus look and the button the outside to press which she cannot reach leaving her forever, for eternity, trapped in the glass.  Araki stated of his subjects that they came to him to be 'murdered' meaning that the women wanted to be trapped in the photographic image which Araki considered to be death, however, Araki's subjects were willing and complaint and wanted people to see them in their erotic state, Wolf's subjects are in public, trapped and not necessarily willing as some of the images show..

While this man was clearly angry, in most of the images the subjects were too beat or preoccupied to notice the photographer or care about the picture.  This series was praised highly by Martin Parr and caused a sensation, there are four volumes of these photographs by Micheal Wolf clearly striking a chord with the public, the connection people feel to these images is clear as the people framed in the windows have resonance all over the over-populated world, we are becoming more, living longer, using resources and therefore more and more we are compressed into the small spaces on the surface of the earth. I will end on the words of Christain Schule; 

'Nowhere do we come closer, involuntarily, to our neighbour than in the underground. The underground is a conspiratorial venue for human excesses: the enforced compression of anxiety, sorrow, pain, madness and fury. In the realm of the soulless underground, the suburban metro represents the ultimate test for today’s city-dweller, the place where the crucial focus of his inescapable anxieties, constraints, neuroses, desires and hopes is revealed.' (Flowers Gallery 2017)


designboom, nina azzarello I. (2015) Michael Wolf photographs the architecture of density, designboom. Available at: (Accessed: January 27, 2023). 

Hong Kong population (live) (no date) Worldometer. Available at: January 27, 2023). 

Leicester Population 2023 (no date) Leicester population 2023. Available at: (Accessed: January 27, 2023). 

Michael Wolf (2017) Flowers Gallery. Available at: (Accessed: January 27, 2023). 

LensCulture, M.W.| (2015) Tokyo Compression - photographs by Michael Wolf, LensCulture. Available at: (Accessed: January 27, 2023). 

Araki. N (1997) Tokyo Lucky Hole, Benedikt Taschen Verlag, Koln

Michael Wolf (1954-2019): Tokyo compression #9 (2010): Available for sale (2010) Artsy. Available at: (Accessed: January 29, 2023). 

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