Friday 28 January 2011

Michael Wolf photography The Transparent City

In the second part of my posts on Michael Wolf’s urban photography I’m taking a look at his The Transparent City series.

In 2006 when arriving in Chicago, Wolf took the elevated train into the city at dusk and was struck by the transparency of its architecture. After having worked in Asia for many years, Wolf saw Chicago as providing the opportunity to continue his study of city life in a radically different context. Shooting from public rooftops over the course of several months, Wolf adopted a similar visual approach to his architectural work in Hong Kong. However, the transparency and monumental size of Chicago’s buildings give a very different result: the city is far less dense than Hong Kong, thereby creating a greater sense of depth to the images, while the transparency of its glass skyscrapers causes the life within them to seep out.

The Transparent City surveys the density and magnitude of Chicago's skyline. Wolf's large-scale prints reveal the enormity of its skyscrapers at the same time they enable us to observe intimate and private goings on within individual apartments and offices. By cropping out traces of street and sky Wolf constructs an abstracted and endless world of windows, lights and reflections. He has created a group of photographs that remain familiar and at the same time fantastic.

From Aperture magazine:
“This is Wolf’s first body of work to address an American city. Whereas prior series have juxtaposed humanizing details within the surrounding geometry of the urban landscape, in The Transparent City, his details are fragments of life—digitally distorted and hyper-enlarged—snatched surreptitiously via telephoto lenses: Edward Hopper meets Blade Runner. The material resonates with all the formalism of the constructed, architectonic work for which Wolf is well-known, but also emphasises the conceptual underpinnings of his ongoing engagement with the idea of how modern life unfolds within the framework of the ever-growing contemporary city.”

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Michael Wolf photography Architecture of Density

I really like Michael Wolf's urban images - they're about as abstract as you can go with 'straight' photography - often simplified into formal vertical and horizontal shapes and rendered in muted colours, I see them as a sort of abstract expressionist version of photography.

Wolf was born in Germany in 1954, raised in the United States and Canada, returning to Germany to study photography before spending the vast majority of his career in Asia.

In his best known series on Hong Kong’s highly compressed, often brutal architecture, Architecture of Density, Wolf uses the city’s sky-scraping tower blocks to great effect, eliminating the sky and horizon line to flatten each image and turn these façades into seemingly never-ending abstractions.

The formalism and deadpan approach of Architecture of Density echoes the work that emerged from the Düsseldorf school of Bernd and Hilla Becher (see earlier post). Like the work of Andreas Gursky (see preceding post) or Thomas Struth, Wolf’s photographs reveal a desire to document and connect with the world around him, but with a contemporary visual approach.

I’m showing examples of Wolf’s work in two blog posts – the first with images from the Architecture of Density series, the second from The Transparent City series, dealing with images from Chicago.

Wolf has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 1995. Stimulated by the region's complex urban dynamics, he makes dizzying photographs of its architecture. One of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world, Hong Kong has an overall density of nearly 6,700 people per square kilometer. The majority of its citizens live in flats in high-rise buildings. In Architecture of Density, Wolf investigates these vibrant city blocks, finding a mesmerizing abstraction in the buildings' facades.

Some of the structures in the series are photographed without reference to the context of sky or ground, and many buildings are seen in a state of repair or construction: their walls covered with a grid of scaffolding or the soft coloured curtains that protect the streets below from falling debris. From a distance, such elements become a part of the photograph's intricate design.

Upon closer inspection of each photograph, the anonymous public face of the city is full of rewarding detail- suddenly public space is private space, and large swatches of colour give way to smaller pieces of people's lives. The trappings of the people are still visible here: their days inform the detail of these buildings. Bits of laundry and hanging plants pepper the tiny rectangles of windows - the only
irregularities in this orderly design.

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle called Wolf's work in Hong Kong "most improbable and humanly alert". In previous series, Wolf described the vernacular culture of the street. His early vision of the region dwelt on personal aesthetic gestures left in back doors and alleyways, such as makeshift seating in the streets. In these photographs, small tokens of human presence took precedence over
monumental architecture. Wolf continues to explore the theme of the organic metropolis- that which develops according to the caprice of its citizens as much as the planning of its architects. In Architecture of Density, hisvision has evolved to evaluate the high-rises that shape the spatial experience of Hong Kong's citizens. Wolf finds in each building a singular character, despite its functional purpose and massive form.

Monday 24 January 2011

Andreas Gursky photography

One of the most famous of the contemporary art photographers is Andreas Gursky. Gursky was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1955. He makes large-scale colour photographs distinctive for their incisive and critical look at the effect of capitalism and globalisation on contemporary life.

Gursky studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher (see previous blog post) at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the early 1980s and first adopted a style and method closely following the Bechers’ systematic approach to photography, creating small black-and-white prints. In the early 1980s, however, he broke from this tradition, using colour film and spontaneous observation to make a series of images of people at leisure, such as hikers, swimmers and skiers, depicted as tiny protagonists in a vast landscape.

Since the 1990s Gursky has concentrated on sites of commerce and tourism, making work that draws attention to today’s burgeoning high-tech industry and global markets. His imagery ranges from the vast, anonymous architecture of modern day hotel lobbies, apartment buildings and warehouses to stock exchanges and parliaments in places from as far a field as Shanghai, Brasília, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Although his work adopts the scale and composition of historical landscape paintings, his photographs are often derived from inauspicious sources: a black and white photograph in a newspaper, for example, that is then researched at length before the final photograph is shot and often altered digitally before printing.

Andreas Gursky has exhibited internationally, including Sydney Biennial (2000), 25th São Paolo Biennial (2002) and Shanghai Biennale (2002) and Venice Biennale of Architecture (2004). He has had numerous solo exhibitions, including Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (1998), Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (all 2001), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2007), Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2008) and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2009).

 1982 Desk Attendants, Spaeter, Duisburg

 1993 Montparnasse

 1994 Hong Kong Island

 1994 Hong Kong Shanghai Bank

 1995 Centre Georges Pompidou

 1996 Prada

 1998 Bundestag

 2000 EM Arena II

 2000 Shanghai

 2001 Avenue of the Americas

 2002 Copan

 2003 PCF, Paris

 2005 Bahrain I 

 2006 May Day V 

 2007 Kamiokande 

 2008 Untitled XVI 

 2009 Bibliotek 

 2009 Jumeirah Palm