"Michael Wolf has the acute ability to find the symbolic value in those seemingly insignificant details that so often go unnoticed." Marc Feustel
Holy Ghost took the opportunity last week to ask Michael about his practice...
MW: Yeah it was a project that I didn't know what I was going to do with but I just thought I love these broken chairs and from every trip I would bring 1 or 2 with me and I soon had a collection of over 100 of them and I started photographing the ergonomics of people sitting on them and also the chairs in their environment. The publisher Steidl did a book with me, I had a show with them in a museum in Germany and this gave me confidence that i was onto something and that people were interested, and had nothing to do with editorial work.
MW: Exactly, plus the idea of combing things that I'd found and collected with photography was always an element that intrigued me. The next project that I did was also an installation based idea, I went to California in 2003 and rented a van and drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and collected every toy I found which as "Made in China." I amassed over 20,000 toys at the flea markets and second hand stores and I packed them all up and sent them back to Hong Kong and then over a period of 6 months I sanded down the backs of these toys and attached magnets to them. Then I visited toy factories in China and photographed workers making these toys and these portraits I embedded into the walls which i then surrounded with the toys so it was like going into a cavern, surrounded by 20.000 toys all mounted on the walls combined with portraits of the workers making them.
MW: The next project was "Hong Kong Architecture of Density" which actually launched my career with the galleries worldwide then I thought, ok, it's a viable option for me to work here because one never knows when one begins how these things turn out and there are a lot of starving artists around.
MW: My wife received a job offer to run the Paris office at Stern magazine which was a great offer but which I didn't really like because I didn't want to leave Hong Kong; I just loved Asia, its a very practical city, extremely efficient. I had my contacts and people I knew that I could work with and I just knew how everything functioned, I also knew how difficult the Parisians are especially if one is not familiar with the language. But one should never stand between a woman and Paris. Barbara came to HK because it was my wish, so it was only fair that I should let her move to a city of her choice. It turned out that I was very unhappy in Paris. It was a city that hadn't changed in 100 years, wherever one looked only Hausmanian architecture, there wasn't this vibrancy and constant flux like you had in Asia where everything was always changing, the visual chaos that you just didn't have in Paris. Three or four weeks after arriving I thought why don't I explore Paris using google street view? Just for the hell of it, I started going through street view and suddenly I was hooked because of course I wasn't only seeing the big picture I was seeing all these interesting details. I started photographing extreme crops, people disappearing behind trees, reflections in bus windows, kissing couples; it was a fascinating process. Essentially I was interpreting the medium of google street view and it turned out a lot of people were fascinated with it. So the genesis of this whole project was my dissatisfaction with the city itself and nevertheless trying to find a way to interpret it. The other result of my unhappiness with Paris is that i moved back to HK and only come to Europe for vacations. Once hooked on Asia, its almost impossible to let go.
MW: Well I have a show opening in New York at the end of October at the Bruce Silverstein gallery and this show is comprised of my google street view work, plus my latest body of work which is called "Tokyo Compression," a series of portraits I took of people through the windows of a Tokyo subway train. When the people get forced into the train, they get pushed to the rear wall where I can get up to two inches close to them. Often, the people were horrified because they could not escape the camera's gaze. One of the elements of this work deals with the intrusion of the photographer and the legitimacy of my intrusions. An underlying theme of many of my projects is voyeurism.
MW: What's interesting is there's a new book coming out at Thames & Hudson, it's called 'Street Photography Now' and I'm in this book with Hong Kong work and I had actually proposed for them to use my google street view images, but their lawyers were scared that Google would sue them. They did use a few images in the introductory essay. I think my new work is pushing the boundries of what street photography is considered to be.
MW: Oh yeah well their are lots of references to classic street photography, there's also Robert Doisneau's 'The Kiss' and its interesting because Bruce Silverstein who represents the estate of Doisneau is exhibiting at Paris Photo this year and he's going to show my picture "The Kiss Street View" juxtaposed with Robert Doisneau's original "The Kiss," and that's going to be facinating.
MW: What I love about any form of art is that there are always interesting and creative minds figuring out new ways to approach things, pushing the boundries. Art is always moving in many directioons, its such an open field but it takes a lot of creativity to work something out. That's my greatest fear, that I won't have another idea, you never know. I always rely on my instincts that something will come, if one does something contrived people sense it.
MW: My pleasure.