Michael Wolf photographed commuters on the Tokyo subway for his series 'Tokyo Compression'

People watching with a difference

Michael Wolf’s Paris Photo photos of compressed commuters are a big hit with Martin Parr

One of the many wonderful things the internet has brought us is the ability to indulge in people watching on a voyeuristic grand scale as photographers post their images of daily life on the likes of Tumblr, Flickr and even Twitter. Fashion bloggers such as The Sartorialist meanwhile, have turned the art into, well, an art and become household names as a consequence. But these photos we saw at Paris Photo take the medium into a whole new area. 

Michael Wolf, <em>Tokyo Compression</em> (2010)Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression (2010)

German-born, USA-educated and China-based Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression series, taken on the city's subway, succinctly capture the reality of urban public transport. Does anybody know the Japanese for ‘sardine can'? Faces of Tokyo commuters are pressed up against condensation-soaked windows, creating small pools of mist as they breathe in and out, struggling for air. Wolf's images are at once a snapshot of the capital city's density and the constraints of urban infrastructure (his previous series Architecture Of Density drew comparisons with Andreas Gursky) and capture the sleepy indifference, mild confusion or resignation of the people behind the windows.

Michael Wolf, <em>Tokyo Compression</em> (2010)Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression (2010)

Wolf's photos, a particular favourite with Martin Parr, by all accounts, are peculiarly reminiscent of Walker Evans’s Many Are Called photographs of the New York subway from the late 1930s. Evans’s photos were, of course, surreptitiously captured - the concept then was so entirely new that most of his subjects remained oblivious to the fact they were being ‘papped’ and carried on their day to day business, dozing, reading papers or chatting, not noticing the camera concealed in the photographer's coat.

Walker Evans, <em>Many Are Called</em> (1938)Walker Evans, Many Are Called (1938)

Michael Wolf’s first UK solo show opens at London's Flowers Galleries on November 25, where he will show recent work including Tokyo Compression and his studies of domestic and office buildings in Chicago. Wolf's 100x100 series depicting the environment within Hong Kong's high rise buildings will be shown within a free standing 10x10ft structure in the middle of the gallery. We hope to be bringing you more from Wolf in the next week.