Monday, July 16, 2018

Michael Wolf, Insidious, La Galerie Particulière

Michael Wolf, TCD 04, C-Print, 50 - x 40 cm
Michael Wolf’s Insidious, a selection of photographs from his Transparent City series is another excellent exhibition at la Galerie Particulière.
Michael Wolf, TC 41, C-Print, 102 - x 135 cm

Wolf is a lesser known German photographer of the same generation as the Düsseldorf school. His work does something slightly different, but is still in the vein of the recognizeable photographic realism that came to the fore with the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, and subsequently, shot to international repute with that of their students such as Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer. Like them, Wolf is interested in the relations between architecture, space and the camera, creating a fascinating body of photographic works that challenge perception and looking in interesting ways. However, he also adds a human dimension, making visible the effects of the alienating built environment on those who live within it.
Michael Wolf, TCD 10, C-Print, 20 - x 25 cm
The images in Insidious use Wolf’s familiar technique of photographing the conglomerate of buildings in the world’s major cities at night. He sees details of the Wrigley building in Chicago, skyscrapers in Hong Kong and Shanghai, blown up to magnify the superficiality of the urban facades. After a while, we realize that the whereabouts of the building is not important, but that the condition of isolation, alienation and stress resulting from the built environment is the same all over the world. Even though the buildings present a glowing skin of the city, with the interior lights turned on by people working late, I kept wanting to look inside the windows and find another dimension. This desire on the part of the spectator is in fact created by the curated exhibition of the images.

Michael Wolf, TC 53, C-Print, 102 - x 135 cm

Beside the architectural photographs, so clear they could almost be mistaken for a painting, there is always a smaller image of a person, behind blinds, or so highly pixellated that his or her identity remains obscured. Each figure is alone, some are anguished, others whiling away the hours before bed, and still others inwardly reflective. Each is a solitary figure in the image, but Wolf doesn’t hide the fact that he has cut out any interlocutors. In one of the only images where the figure is clear despite the pixellations that make him anonymous, the figure gives the finger to the photographer.  
Michael Wolf, TC 24, C-Print, 50 - x 40 cm
It is thanks to these small, masked photographs of people that I so assiduously began to look through building windows in the architectural images to find the figure. However, the coloured shadows I see through the windows are almost impossible to identify, except for in the case of a couple of figures. And even when I could make out identities of the figures, they were never the ones in the juxtaposed images. Of course, they were never visible through the window of the building, because their images were taken through windows of a different building. Finding the humanity in the urban jungle isn’t possible. We are always looking in the wrong place.

Michael Wolf, TC 95, C-Print, 135 - x 102 cm
I was interested to note that there is no reflection on the glass to give a sense of the outside world. These buildings are all but a surface, even when we see inside. Both the buildings and the people are the signs of the solitude and isolation, the disconnection and superficiality of the contemporary city. The difficulty of discerning the figure, both because of the fact Wolf overblows or magnifies the image and their absence from the windows into which we look, is the end result of this world we have built. And yet, I kept coming back to the fact that the juxtaposed images of people also work to complicate the buildings. Thanks to the people, the buildings are no longer just a surface; they become something with an inside, with life, with a depth that is hinted at, but to which we have no access.

All images courtesy of la galerie particulière

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