Michael Wolf’s Tokyo Compression Photo Series Is A Study In Cramped Commuting

Michael Wolf Photographs From Tokyo Compression

The photographer Michael Wolf is renowned for his forays into the megapolises of the World, in particular Hong Kong and Tokyo. In a previous post I did on him he spent months trawling through Google Street View looking for unfortunate accidents. In this series called ‘Tokyo Compression’ he spent several months documenting commuters on the overpacked subway of Tokyo.

It’s desperate looking. People squashed, tired, pissed off, worn down, the city closing in on them, sucking the marrow from their bones. Some commentators have said that they think the subjects of his photos look calm, even Zen like. I don’t. I think they look overcome.

Tokyo was the perfect city for Wolf to undertake this project. The greater metropolitan area of the capital is home to over 35 million people many of whom need to commute – on its world renowned transportation system –  into the city to work everyday. However, even the transport authorities can’t cope with the numbers and in order to fit everyone into their subway cars they employ, what they euphemistically call, ‘passenger arrangement staff’ or what we would call people pushers. Their main objective, everyday, is to cram as many people as possible into the subway cars. This is the result. Thousands of human sardines packed tightly into a sweaty can.

Here’s what Wolf had to say about the project:

I shot six frames of faces of early morning commuters in subway windows which turned out to be very powerful images, I spent 20 days [Monday to Friday] every morning from 7:30 till 8:45 at the same subway station shooting portraits of people on their way to work.

Powerful stuff. As are his other series which you should definitely take a look at although I’ll probably end up posting more of his work up in the near future.