Michael Wolf 1954-2019

Architecture of Density #120, Hong Kong 2008, H 62 x 48", Edition 7 of 9

Born in Germany and worked as a former photojournalist in Europe and the US, Michael Wolf has since turned his attention to capturing the overlooked qualities of big cities. In particular, his fascination with the city of Hong Kong – where he is based since 1994 – has produced his most important bodies of work

Michael Wolf's work is collected by internationally renowned museums and galleries, including the M+ Museum (Hong Kong), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY),  the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Folkwang Museum, Essen, (Germany) among many others.

His work has been exhibited at MOTI, Breda, Netherlands (2016), Portland Art Museum (2016), Musée des beaux-arts de Liège, Belgium (2014), Bienal de arquitetura, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2013), San Diego (2011), Fotographie Museum, Amsterdam (2010), Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2008), Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2008) among others.  For full biography click here.

Michael Wolf was awarded an honorary mention in the 2011 World Press Photo for 'A Series of Unfortunate Events', won First Prize in the 2010 World Press Photo in the Daily Life category with 'Tokyo Compression', and First Prize in the 2005 World Press Photo in the category of Contemporary issues with 'The Real Toy Story'. Wolf was also shortlisted for the 2010 Prix Pictet on the theme of 'Growth' with 'Architecture of Density.

Michael Wolf has published his photo series that explore interesting aspects of the urban phenomena in more than 30 photo books, including his celebrated series 'Architecture of Density', 'Inside/Outside (2009'), 'Real Fake Art' (Peperoni Books, 2011), 'Tokyo Compression' (2010), 'Transparent City' (Aperture and MoCP, 2008), Hong Kong: Front Door/Back Door, (Thames & Hudson, 2005), and Sitting in China (Steidl, 2002). His latest book is 'Informal Solutions' (WE PRESS, 2016). For a full detailed list of books, click here.

Michael Wolf  currently works and resides in Hong Kong. 

Tokyo Compression

'Tokyo Compression #2, Tokyo, Japan 2009

'Tokyo Compression #2, Tokyo, Japan 2009

Michael Wolf made a series of candid portraits of Japanese commuters enduring the inhuman daily crush of bodies in Tokyo’s subway cars. The results are visceral, unforgettable, and almost suffocating.
— Christian Shüle, Lensculture







Shortlisted by Prix Pictet 2017 on the theme of SPACE. 

'Tokyo Compression' will be exhibited at the V&A in London together with the work of other short listed candidates. Final Winner will be announced by Kofi Annan at the Victoria & Albert Museum in May.


Architecture of Density

'Architecture of Density #91", Hong Kong 2006, 40 x 52" Edition 9 of 9 (last one available at Blue Lotus Gallery only)

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, whoses units can house as many as 10,000 people.  "In Architecture of Density, I investigates these enormous city blocks, finding a mesmerizing abstraction in the buildings' facades." 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 colored curtains that protect the streets below from falling debris. From a distance, such elements become a part of an intricate design. Upon closer inspection of each photograph, the anonymous public face of the city is full of rewarding detail -  public space is private space,  large swatches of color 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. The images of Architecture of Density give one an inkling of what our cities could look like if grown continues unchecked. 

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'Informal Solutions' - Observations in Back Alleys


To many people, back alleys are dark and dirty places that draw neither fascination nor inspiration. But not to the internationally renowned German Photographer Michael Wolf, who has been fascinated and inspired by the happenings in Hong Kong’s back alleys. His new book Informal Solutions: Observations In Hong Kong Back Alleys (2016) is a documentation of his discoveries through his past 13 years of exploration.

In his new book, Michael Wolf presents the many manifestations of culture and life in Hong Kong’s back alley, where spaces are utilized in the most imaginative and unexpected ways. Through his discerning eyes, objects captured in photographs appear to transcend from their humble utilitarian origin to magnificent works of urban installation art. It seems inevitable that city authorities will one day sanitize the creative chaos in Hong Kong’s back alleys. But until then, we share the joy and jubilation with Michael Wolf in celebrating Hong Kong’s dynamic back alleys. Michael Wolf’s latest book will be launched at Tai Hei Cha Don on 22 January 2016.

'Informal Solutions' - Exhibition as shown at Michael Wolf Studio - Organised by Sarah Greene

This exhibition is currently on view at the artist studio in Hong Kong. Viewing can be arranged on appointment with Sarah Greene (sarah@bluelotus-gallery.com).

'Informal Solutions' as seen at Museum of the Image, Breda (Exhibition from September to December 2016)

Back Alley de-constructed

@ wontonmeen, Hong Kong, May 2015

curator: Sarah Greene. 

An art installation made with seemingly random objects is placed in an the window of unlikely little gallery space in the middle of Shek Kip Mei. But nothing is random about its placement; the objects are carefully lined up in an organized neat manner.

Michael Wolf’s latest body of work is focused around the back alleys of Hong Hong Kong. As per Wolf: ‘Hong Kong’s back alleys are often unnoticed against their more glamorous counterparts of shiny buildings. However, they are unique to Hong Kong. This is where workers, cleaners and cooks organize their tools or escape to for a little cigarette break. It might seem mundane but it presents an authentic slice of Hong Kong’ grass root culture. In my opinion they should be nominated as a heritage site.’ 

John Szarkowski, the former director of Moma once said; ‘Photography is a sophisticated way of pointing at things’. And this is what’s happening here. Instead of presenting the photograph as a beautiful framed object, the content of the photograph was collected and presented as something precious lending the objects their importance and respect. The photograph merely served as a document tracing the roots of the objects origin. 

Corner Houses 


Corner House #41

In the evocatively titled Corner Houses, the internationally renowned German photographer Michael Wolf continues with his visual quest for the overlooked and underappreciated urban phenomena that give a city its special character.  This time, he draws our attention to Hong Kong’s urban corners, and compels us to reexamine a typology of buildings that is often rendered inconspicuous amidst the high-rise, high-density urban clutter of Hong Kong.

The architecture examined in Corner Houses – ordinary residential-commercial buildings of the ‘50s and ‘60s vintage – represents the expression of local Chinese pragmatism and expediency amidst the economic austerity of the early postwar decades.  The photographic presentation captures the inherent paradoxes of the typology’s architectural character: its quiet prominence, the attractiveness of its banality, and the tectonic chaos and vibrancy that give urban Hong Kong its endearing quality.

Besides the superb photographs of Michael Wolf, Corner Houses features an intellectual discourse by two of Hong Kong’s best known academics in the field of architectural conservation, Drs. Lee Ho Yin and Lynne DiStefano.  As the first collaborative effort with Michael Wolf, the University of Hong Kong Press is proud to present this exquisite publication that will serve as much a useful academic reference as a collectible piece of photographic art.  



Big City, Small Gods


Small God, Big City #45

For Michael Wolf Hong Kong is a lifelong love affair. With its outstanding architecture, vital dynamics and rich vernacular culture Hong Kong was the inspiration and starting point for his ever growing body of work about life in megacities and some of the most important series have been created here.

But Michael Wolf is also worried and his main concern is that inevitable new urban development is done in a way that doesn't leave enough space for diversity and individual expression and as a result the city loses more and more it's unique flavor. In this respect the Earth Gods series is his most radical statement. Probably Michael Wolf doesn't burn incense for the Earth God but with this book he does for those who do and all the other people who contribute in their own way to the thrilling city experience.

The Earth God shrine is found commonly by the doorways of shops and homes throughout Hong Kong, but Michael Wolf may well have spotted them first as peripheral figures in his own photographs of the extended Back Door series, that celebrate the beauty of Hong Kong's vernacular culture. Once infected he saw them everywhere and choose them as the heroes for this new series. May they be indifferent for most and unloved by many, may they be made of cheap premanufactured materials and may the offerings be poor – these small gods still outshine with ease all the dollies, hosepipes, jerrycans, brooms and buckets, that accompany them down on the big city's earth.

Paris Roof Tops

'Paris Roof Top #1, Paris, 2014'

'Paris Roof Top #1, Paris, 2014'

“Forget your normal, street-level view of Paris. Photographer Michael Wolf is heading to the roof, capturing the top of the ‘city of lights’ in a way most people never see. 

In a place so photographed that it has become a massive cliché, it’s refreshing to see a lofty new perspective on the beautiful place.” 

–Benjamin Starr, Visual News, August 2014

Paris Tree Shawdows 




‘Sometimes I forgot how beautiful simple things can be. I think that is one of the best things about art; it can really remind you of the beauty that exists in the simple things and the mundane parts of life. That’s what I love about this series by the German-born photographer Michael Wolf. Shot on the streets of Paris, the work shows little more than the shadows of trees set against the buildings of the street. Yet in his composition and his high-contrast black-and-white he manages to find something effortlessly beautiful in something so banal.’

The Fox is Black, August 2014

Paris Street View 

Paris Street View #4

Paris Street View #4


‘A series of unfortunate events’, all photographed from Google Street View, taken by placing a camera on a tripod in front of a computer screen in Paris. Google Street View is a technology that displays images taken by a fleet of specially adapted cars, providing online panoramic views of different places around the globe. Since its launch in May 2007, it has expanded from just a few cities in the US to cover a range of locations worldwide. The technology has raised privacy issues, although Google maintains that photos are taken from public property, that features can be blurred on-screen and that users can flag inappropriate or sensitive imagery for Google to remove.


Won 'Honorable Mention Prize' under the theme of Contemporary Issues, November 2010 with World Press Photo.

Setting up the Toy Story:

Selected Press:

2017-4 | Essay by Matthew Ryan Smith:  ‘Scandalous Images Divine Light Photograph’

2016-10 | Graine de Photographe (France) 'Les photos de Michael Wolf dans le métro tokyoïte'


2016-9 | CNN 'Protests, cocoons and shoebox homes: A look beyond Hong Kong's postcard exterior'

2016-1 | SCMP (Hong Kong), 'Hong Kong's back alleys: beauty amid the banal'

2016-3 | Elephant Magazine (UK), 'Encounters'

2016-1 | Michael Wolf on Orange News

2016-3 | Art and Design, Taiwan

2016-3 | Michael Wolf | Informal Solutions on Now TV

2014-5 | Documentary on Canvas Connection, Belgium: link: https://vimeo.com/92597595, pw: dcc

2012-2 | Snoeck (Belgium), 'Een nieuwe soort schoonheid'

2011-12 | SCMP (Hong Kong), 'Forgotten Corners'

2011-2 | Die Tageszeitung. 'Bilder Im Minutentakt'

2008-11 | Art Forum, Michael Wolf speaks about Transparent City

2016-1 SCMP Post Magazine:





Michael Wolf gives us an insight into his working practice as he explores the Foam Magazine theme, 'Peeping', in this film for Foam For You.
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