When you're a commuter, it's hard to describe the travails of a truly awful trip on public transportation, let alone find the space or the patience to capture eye-catching imagery. It's better for someone not accustomed to urban life to offer a fresh take on the pains of the subway — especially an outsider with a camera.
Photographer Michael Wolf works extensively in Asian countries documenting the curiously crowded conditions plaguing hyper-populated cities. His series Tokyo Compression focuses on the dense Japanese metropolis. With shameless willingness to approach even the most beleaguered subway rider for a photo, the German photographer captures strenuous and seemingly unbearable subway rides.
In a passage on his website, Wolf describes the experience of taking such personal photos as an attempt to “question the role of the photographer in the city.”
In a nutshell, Tokyo Compression plays up the internal struggle of the everyday: what people are thinking, experiencing, and screaming internally when they’re pressed against an airless subway door. Wolf’s intimate documentation of commuters crammed into tight spaces strives to “depict an urban hell [...] highlighting commuters' complete vulnerability to the city at its most extreme.”
He describes the photographs as miniature cells, zoning in on the subject and inadvertently increasing the discomfort of the entire experience: “The density is no longer architectural but human [...] as the images create a sense of discomfort as [Wolf's] victims attempt to squirm out of view or simply close their eyes, wishing the photographer to go away.”
For anyone who has experienced a can-of-sardines subway commute, we're sure the photographer is one of many things these passengers wish would go away.
To see more photography from Michael Wolf, including his other images of gratuitously populated cities, click here.