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An American Photographer in Hong Kong, Part 4: The 100 X 100 Series

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Part 1 of Michael Wolf’s photography from Hong Kong presented images from the artist’s “Real Fake Art” series; it also contained a biography of Wolf.  Please view Part 1 by clicking here.  Part 2 presented images from Wolf’s “Architecture of Density” series; please view Part 2 by clicking here.  Part 3 presented images from Wolf’s “Back Doors” series; please view Part 3 by clicking here.

At artnet’s Artist Works Catalogue, there is the following introduction to Michael Wolf’s 100 X 100 Series:   

“In his ‘100 X 100’ series, Michael Wolf humanizes public notions about the experience of poverty and the industrialization of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world.  He focuses on 100 apartments (each 100 square feet) in the oldest housing development in Hong Kong, which is slated for demolition. The series explores the concept of ‘personal space’ in Hong Kong, with photographs that document the human urge to individualize the impersonal and create a distinct personality through human details amid massive monotony.”

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In her comments on what these pictures express to her, my friend said:  

‘There’s the definite comparison of haves and have-nots to these rooms and their occupants.  But there are also the suggestions of the street vendor or tailors working out of their small room.  

After the first 10 or 20 (of the 100 photographs at artnet’s AWC), the viewer might decide there is a dehumanizing quality or a flatness to the photos.  With 100 views into small rooms, how much variety is possible?  What is the artist’s intention?  Has he respected privacy, has he taken photos under false pretenses?  After all, haven’t we heard that Asian populations tend to be conservative?  Or is that a statement that reveals preconceptions/prejudice?  (I believe I have heard it used in various contexts for just about all countries. . .) 

Pondering longer, I think I glimpse another interpretation.  I do not detect depression, oppression, or despair.  Instead there is the hint of hope, of better times, of worse times in the past.  There are the bright splashes of color, the smiles, companionship, and even joy. But what can possibly hopeful in such small, cramped windowless spaces?  

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The dense populations of Hong Kong must shape a view of small spaces that differs from western communities.  These faces, smiling out in arranged or prepared positions, do not project tired, defeated attitudes.  There is a peace in these images, an acceptance that I find encouraging rather than depressing.    

I am reminded of another series of photos posted on OEN, before Christmas, of the tenements in Buffalo or some similar New England town.  The feel of those photos was undeniably sad, depressed, and suicidal.  The rooms were bare, blank, beiges yet the occupants had 2 or 3 rooms with windows, their own bath, a kitchen.  Those photos hurt the soul.  The viewer was leaden with gloom, a heaviness that allowed no possibility of hope. 

In contrast, Wolf’s treatment honors the positive.  The images sing the strength of hope, generosity, and love.  I think these images capture the eastern view of life by revealing our own prejudices for cramped spaces – perhaps a cramping of our own optimism.’

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(All the images, and the words enclosed in double quotation-marks, are courtesy of artnet and its Artist Works Catalogues.  At its AWC, there is this: “artnet offers these catalogues free to the public as an educational resource. Simply click on an individual artist's image to begin, and check back often to browse new catalogues.”)  

 

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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