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Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density #39, 2005. Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York.
Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density #39, 2005. Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York.

Michael Wolf (1954–2019)

Photographer Michael Wolf, known for capturing the architectural landscape and urban density of cities such as China and Hong Kong and for his long-running photo series “Architecture of Density” (2003–14) and “Informal Solutions” (2003–19), died on Thursday, April 25, at his home in Cheung Chau, an island southwest of Hong Kong, the New York Times reports. He was sixty-four years old.

Born in Munich on July 30, 1954, Wolf was raised in the United States, Europe, and China. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen with photographer Otto Steinert. Upon graduating in 1976, he worked as an independent photojournalist for many years. In 1994, Wolf moved to Hong Kong, where he worked as a contract photographer for the weekly newsmagazine Stern, and married Barbara Herrmann three years later. In 2003, he embarked on his own projects and began “Architecture of Density.” 

Wolf provided new perspectives of the mesmerizing grid-like facades of Hong Kong’s downtown high-rises and the region’s rapid development. “Looking at Michael Wolf’s photographic series, one is flung between two poles: Is the photographer trying to demonstrate how dehumanized the world has become, or is he insisting on the opposite?” Emily Hall wrote in the January 2011 issue of Artforum.

In addition to documenting metropolitan life in Asia, Wolf produced series in Paris and America—his “Transparent City” (2006) shows the minutia of daily life captured while focusing his lens on people behind the windows of glass-walled buildings in Chicago. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2009–10), a departure from his other work, is a collection of images caught by Google’s Street View camera. The series included photographs of life’s more intimate and sometimes unavoidable moments, such as a cyclist taking a spill and a person defecating in the street. 

In 2005 and 2010, the photographer won the first prize in the World Press Photo’s Contemporary Issues and Daily Life categories, respectively, and he was twice shortlisted for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize. Wolf received his first retrospective in 2017, “Michael Wolf—Life in Cities” (2017), which opened at the Rencontres de la Photographie festival in Arles before traveling to the Hague Museum of Photography, the Fondazione Stelline in Milan, and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.

Wolf has also exhibited at Aperture Gallery, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; the Shenzhen Biennial, Hong Kong; and the Venice Biennale for Architecture. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the German Museum for Architecture, Frankfurt; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.