When you first see Michael Wolf’s photography, it takes a second to realize what you’re looking at. The multi-colored patterns look almost like an unidentifiable piece of technology, as though a chunk of plastic was plucked out of a motherboard and magnified. It’s only when you begin to notice the windows and balconies and even the occasional person punctuating his frame that you realize you’re staring at someone’s home. More specifically, you’re looking at Hong Kong’s colorful high-rises, the most prevalent form of housing in one of the most vertical cities on the planet. In his Architecture of Density project (now a book), Wolf transforms his adoptive home city’s ubiquitous architecture into stunning works of art.
‘By removing the context, viewers have no idea how big these building actually are.’
Wolf begins by driving around Hong Kong to scout possible photo locations. If he sees a photogenic building (tall, bright and detailed), he’ll look for the best vantage point for shooting the structure. “The location is crucial,” he says. “You need an unobstructed view.”
Fortunately, Hong Kong is a hilly place, so it’s easy for Wolf to walk up an incline to get parallel to the middle of a building. Occasionally, he’ll climb up on rooftops, parking garages or even schools. “Sometimes I’ll go into the building opposite,” he says. “I’ll try to find someone who will let me into his apartment so I can photograph out of the window.”
After Wolf gets his shots, he prints out the photographs and lays them on the floor to study them, sort of like the way a writer storyboards a novel. “At some point I just took a photograph and I folded away the sky and the horizon until I just had the pure architecture. I realized it was a very effective visual effect,” he explains. “By removing the context, viewers have no idea how big these building actually are.” It’s easy to imagine that the buildings Wolf shoots could easily rise another 40 stories, though it’s impossible to really know. “It gives you this illusion of almost endless size,” he says.