Michael Wolf’s fourth edition of his brilliant series Tokyo Compression is still a smash hit—Tokyo Compression: Final Cut arrived last year. It chronicles the never-ending series of weekday commutes which from anyone on the outside of Tokyo life look entirely unbearable.
The series, alongside a recent show at the Blue Lotus Gallery, documents the equally breathy and suffocating images of the Tokyo commute. The series concentrates mainly on this juxtaposing idea with breath and proximity at the forefront of most of the images.
The packed subway cars are filled to the brim with humanity, sweat, dewdrops, an unbearable amount of crowding and it’s expertly conveyed in these images. They are so entirely of the Tokyo brand that it seems impossible for them to have been shot anywhere else.
The intimacy in the exhibit is also perfectly juxtaposed by the knowing of subway etiquette. It’s an untold rule that although these brief glimpses of shared humanity are apparent they are never mentioned. This fact makes the small incidents of the photographer-to-subject interaction even more valuable. The artist himself once said of his commuters: “You’re living life as a sardine—it’s horrific.”
The main point to take form this work, outside of the duality of the conversation, is that it is unavoidable. Every 24 hours the subject will be put under the same stresses, the same fleeting moments of touch and the same enforced integrity to not mention it. And why? So that we can afford to take the train to work of course.