HONG KONG — Michael Wolf, a photographer who was known for his vertiginous depictions of rainbow-hued skyscrapers in Hong Kong as well as the minutiae of everyday life there, died on Thursday at his home in Cheung Chau, an outlying island near the city. He was 64.
His death was confirmed by his longtime representative, Sarah Greene, and his studio manager, Pierfrancesco Celada. They did not specify a cause but said he had died in his sleep.
In photographs he likened to “supermarket bar codes,” Mr. Wolf captured Hong Kong’s high-rises — dizzying stretches of pink, green and orange — in a 2005 series titled “Architecture of Density.”
“He took a building that is very three-dimensional and compressed it into a surface in a way that would make one feel breathless and lost in scale,” Tugo Cheng, an architect and fine-art photographer based in Hong Kong, said by telephone.
By tightly framing high-rises in a way that showed neither sky nor horizon, Mr. Wolf created architectural photographs that gave the viewer the impression of infinity and repetition.
“This building is only as big as it is, but it could be 10 times as big, because you don’t know where it ends,” he said of his photos in a 2009 talk at the Aperture Foundation.
A closer look at one of his pictures reveals minuscule details that intrude on the uniformity of a building’s facade: laundry dangling from a window, poles jutting over a ledge, a child’s flower-shaped windmill spinning below a grate.
Mr. Wolf later spent time inside homes, documenting small, square-shaped public-housing apartments for a series called “100 x 100.” But to some critics he began revealing too much.
From a rooftop in Chicago, Mr. Wolf used a telephoto lens to capture both the scale of condominium units and the particulars of private lives, glimpsed through illuminated windows, for “The Transparent City.”
Later, for “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” he placed a camera on a tripod in front of a computer screen and, from blurry Google Street View footage in Paris, captured images of cars burning, dogs defecating, couples kissing and cyclists falling onto the streets.
The project, which won honorable mention in the World Press Photo awards of 2011, was lauded for its innovative use of technology, but it was also questioned as to whether it should be considered photojournalism.
Mr. Wolf was aware of how intrusive his camera could be, as when he photographed Tokyo commuters in packed train cars pressed against the glass of the doors. “It’s a bit aggressive, what I’m doing,” he said, “because these people cannot defend themselves.”
The project won a World Press Award in the daily life category. Mr. Wolf surmised that some subjects closed their eyes at the sight of the camera. “The thinking is, If I don’t see you, you don’t see me,” he said.
He called himself an “obsessive” worker who returned to subjects repeatedly until a project was complete.
Ms. Greene, his longtime representative, said Mr. Wolf’s “intensity” gave his work its impact. For instance, he spent 13 years photographing objects found in back alleys and published them as “Informal Solutions,” a 264-page book subdivided by chapters on mops, boots, carts and gloves.
He also collected hundreds of chairs and thousands of used toys that he incorporated into gallery installations of his photography.
Michael Wolf was born on July 30, 1954, in Munich. Both his parents were artists: His mother painted and did pottery, and his father did calligraphy.
Mr. Wolf studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and, under the photojournalist Otto Steinert, at the Folkwang School in Essen, Germany. He worked as a photographer for Stern, a weekly newsmagazine in Europe, until he was 39, when he moved to Hong Kong in what he called “the throes of a midlife crisis.”
Though he would occasionally take on projects in other cities, he honed his photographic style largely in Hong Kong.
Mr. Wolf is survived by his wife, Barbara Wolf, and their son, Jasper.
In 2005, he won a World Press Photo award for his series on workers at a toy factory in mainland China.
By then he had begun wading into fine-art photography, looking for quirky details of life in crowded Hong Kong. He photographed, for example, the tools that workers stored in back alleys connected to kitchens and gloves hanging from industrial pipes and bamboo scaffolding, ballooning in the breeze as if they were disembodied hands reaching across the city.
“When foreign photographers come to Hong Kong, they often capture things they consider to be typically Hong Kong: red lanterns and the like,” Lam Yik-fei, a photographer who published the book “Hong Kong Umbrella” with Mr. Wolf in 2015, said in a phone interview. “But he would go to back alleys and photograph things that maybe even Hong Kong locals wouldn’t notice.”
After years of photographing buildings without the context of sky and horizon, Mr. Wolf spent two hours every morning shooting what he titled “Cheung Chau Sunrises,” his final tribute to Hong Kong.
Before moving there, he said, he had spent a long time pondering where to go. “The globe of the world turned in my head, and I stopped at many places and none of them somehow resonated,” Mr. Wolf said in 2009. “And at the very end I stopped in Hong Kong and everything in me said, ‘Yes.’ ”
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