Michael Wolf’s 25-year career as a globetrotting
editorial photographer ended
unceremoniously in 2003 when
Stern magazine decided not to
renew his contract. He was one of
many casualties of the declining
magazine business. But with
his wide-ranging curiosity, his
anthropological instinct, and
the obsessiveness of a collector,
he built a successful second
career as a fine art photographer.
Works features his many art
projects about city life. But it
also includes his 1976 college
thesis project called “
Bottrop-Ebel,” a traditional black-and-white documentary about life in
a German industrial town that
launched Wolf’s editorial career.
And it reflects the constants that
have stuck with him throughout
his 40-year career, including
his generosity of spirit and
his appreciation for quirky
individual expressions amidst
the regimented public order.
As an editorial photographer,
Wolf gravitated early on toward
factory workers on breaks, for
instance, and the office décor
of bureaucrats. As boring as
they may sound, those and
other collections add up to
compelling cultural observations.
For instance, “Bastard Chairs,”
a series he shot in the 1990s
while traveling through China
on editorial assignments, shows
chairs that appear beyond repair
but have been repaired anyway.
The series speaks to a cultural
regard for functionality and thrift.
His art photography projects
continued in that vein after
2003. Much of the work focuses
on Asia, where Wolf relocated
around 1995. Works such as
“Architecture of Density,” a s
eries of visually compressed
Hong Kong high-rises, and
“100 x 100”—a series of portraits
of people in their identical
are about how people assert
their individuality in a city
that renders them anonymous
and insignificant. While Wolf
explores existential questions
about urban life in metaphorical
ways, he hasn’t abandoned
his documentary sensibilities.
Though some of his work borders
on the abstract, it remains
rooted in reality. That makes his
photographs accessible, and in all
their detail, fun to explore.
By Michael Wolf
Text records by Marc Feustel,
Wim van Sinderen
and Michael Wolf
296 pages, 400 images
The photo book remained unchallenged
in 2017 for the title of photography’s
favorite form. From years-long
documentary projects to experiments
in visual narrative, ruminations on
cultural history to chronicles of daily
life in underrepresented communities,
these are the photo books that caught
the eyes of PDN’s editors this year.
Visit PDNOnline this month to see
photobook reviews and features
we’ve written throughout the year.