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Remembering Michael Wolf Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

26 April 2019

Michael Wolf, the German-born photographer who made Hong Kong his home, died suddenly this week at the age of 64. Jasper.

In the video above, Wolf discusses his most important works as they are being installed for his first retrospective. It's a charming introduction to the projects that look at life in cities from several perspectives that never abandon that feet-on-the-ground human one he employed.

Born in 1954 in Munich, Germany, Wolf was raised in the United States, Europe, and Canada. He attended the North Toronto Collegiate Institute and the University of California at Berkeley. He then studied visual communication at the University of Essen under Otto Steinert, a pioneer of photographic abstraction.

Wolf worked as a photojournalist for Stern magazine for nearly 10 years before turning his attention to fine art photography.

The Real Toy Story, an early project, used 16,000 Chinese-made toys he acquired on trips to the U.S. that are hung one-by-one on the walls of a gallery with magnets. They surround portraits of the Chinese factory workers who mass-produced the toys to remind us every one of them had a human behind it.

That focus on the human informs even his more abstract works.

His piece Tokyo Compression showed the city's commuters pressed against the windows of subway cars during rush hour. And Transparent City shot in downtown Chicago beginning in 2006, mimicked his earlier Architecture of Density as an abstraction of urban high-rise development. Except it was an invitation to peer into the windows of those buildings for signs of human existence.

It was also the catalyst for his transition from film to digital photography. He tells the story in Michael Wolf's Five Tips for Shooting Urban Landscapes:

For most of my first major series Architecture of Density, I shot with a 4x5 film camera. But when it came to shooting Chicago -- which is a very windy city -- the slightest gust of wind would vibrate the tripod, and I suspected many of my photographs would be ruined.

I decided to switch to digital, which saved my life. Now every night I could review the day's images and found that 40 percent of them had vibration problems from wind. Had I kept shooting film, I would have gone back to Hong Kong and realized that half of what I'd done was unusable. This way I could always go up to the roof again and reshoot an important image.

We featured Wolf in our April 5, 2014 Saturday Matinee Michael Wolf: Peeping discussing his series using Google Street View images.

In that video, Wolf said, "Every form of photography is some form of peeping or voyeurism." In his hands, though, it became a portrait of our times.

He is survived by his wife Barbara and son Jasper.

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