The photographer Michael Wolf's study of Hong Kong, "The Architecture of Density," began with the SARS outbreak in 2002. As many people became sick and others left the city, it dawned on Wolf that, despite eight years in the city as a photojournalist for the German magazine Stern, he had never completed a personal project. “I bundled up wife and son and sent them back to Germany and I stayed in Hong Kong and started working on 'Architecture of Density,' so it was basically a situation where I really felt this need to do my own interpretation of the city,” Wolf says. This project turned into an intricate and meticulous study of the megacity, and Wolf gradually leaving behind photojournalism for fine art photography. “In art there’s no rules, you can do whatever you want. With a magazine you’re always confined to pictures on a page. You have an editor, I had an art director, there are certain expectations you have to meet.”
Maïa Booker: How did you first come to focus on the architecture of Hong Kong, and what lessons have you taken from this project?
Michael Wolf: I moved here in 1994, and that was the result of that I was living in Germany and I had a mid-life crisis, I was 39 years old and I somehow felt I’d done all I could and was a bit disillusioned. And I thought it might be interesting to go to someplace totally different. Architecture of Density was the first topic that made me think in depth about where I live and what it’s like to live in this city. I'd always lived in Europe where everything was very tame, and even in the U.S. things are relatively tame, even New York. Europe was too predictable for me. Paris looks like a movie set, it hasn’t changed in 120 years. You don't have massive buildings like this, so I developed the topic and I sort of covered different aspects of it. Architecture was one in a whole series of different themes which all have the large umbrella of "life in cities."