So lately I’ve been getting into some of the photography and writing that’s been done on Hong Kong, just off mainland China. I know it’s still nominally autonomous, but it’s been moving toward full integration for some time now. Last I checked it was still considered a “special administrative” zone within China proper.
Anyway, the only exposure I’d really had to Hong Kong had come through television and film. First through Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) and then the “White Ghost” (1996) episode of the British police procedural Cracker. Both are great, by the way, so I’d highly encourage you to watch them if you have any interest. Recently, however, I came across the German photographer Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density series (2013). These photographs depict the numerous, eerily colorful high-rises that crowd the skyline of Hong Kong.
You can see a number of them in very high resolution just by clicking on the small icons below. They’ve been assembled from various places around the internet, though the Tumblr blog Architecture of Doom probably deserves special mention.
It took me a while to figure out what made these images so striking. At first I surmised that it was because of the almost total lack of any visible human presence, which is somewhat ironic considering it’s a visual record human population density. The whole city should be (or should at least appear to be, since it in reality is) crawling with people.
But that’s not it. Part of it, no doubt, but not the whole story.
What really makes these photographs so powerful — and I’m mad it took me so long just to notice it — is their total lack of any sky or ground. Neither celestial nor terrestrial, but rather somewhere in between. Just saturated concrete, which perhaps gives them their claustrophobic effect. One can’t make out any terra firma in these pictures, or the vault of the heavens. All that’s there is residential housing suspended midair, without gaps or visible routes of escape.
Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density is apparently out there in book form also, if you’d like to pick up a physical copy. Here’s the book’s description on Amazon:
Stunning and sobering, the photographs of high-rise apartment buildings in Hong Kong by German photographer Michael Wolf reveal his personal fascination with life in mega-cities. Having lived there for several years, Wolf began to document Hong Kong’s extreme development and complex urban dynamics, and how these factors play into the relationships between public and private space, anonymity and individuality, in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. His close-up view takes the repetitive facades and colorful palettes out of their architectural context, instead offering urban patterns. With an introduction by Ernest Chui and essay by Natasha Egan.
If the colorful flamboyance of Wolf’s photographs provide some temporary respite from the general gloom of Hong Kong’s cityscape, then the high-rises below deny even this small distraction. Eyesores unbound. Doom City, here we come: