Tokyo’s Packed Subways Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Behold
The Photo Blog
Nov. 14 2012 9:30 AM

Tokyo: The World’s Most Uncomfortable Commute

Behold is Slate's brand-new photo blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @beholdphotos and on Tumblr. Learn what this space is all about here.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway

Tokyo is world-famous for its urban density, so it’s no surprise that the legendarily packed city subways would capture photographer Michael Wolf’s imagination. Wolf’s work largely concentrates on how people move within metropolises, whether he’s trolling the Internet for Google street views or gazing through the windows of city dwellers. The series that has perhaps struck the biggest chord is the arresting commuter photos in Tokyo Compression—a third volume was just published last month by Peperoni Books and Asia One Books.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs fromTokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

The book combines never-before-seen photographs of commuters crammed into the Tokyo subway with images from the previous two volumes. Some are almost goofy; others reflect the common city-dweller thread of exhaustion, discomfort, and annoyance, and for an overall effect of capturing the sweaty and uncomfortable reality of the daily grind of city life.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

Advertisement

By concentrating on the details of each face and each subway window, Wolf enables the viewer to connect immediately with the emotion, regardless of whether the viewer has ever experienced such overcrowding. Some commuters squeeze their eyes shut, others meet the gaze of the lens directly, which is perhaps more disconcerting: They are unwilling subjects trapped in the train window. Seeing face after face crammed into this same environment, the actual location of the people becomes almost irrelevant and viewing them becomes almost ghostly.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

Tokyo Compression, Michael Wolf, Tokyo, Japan, subway
Photographs from Tokyo Compression Three.

Michael Wolf/Peperoni Books, Berlin/Asia One Books, Hong Kong.

The description on Wolf’s website elaborates on how he sees the emotional condition of his subjects, both as train riders and as people caught in his visual grasp: “… The images create a sense of discomfort as his victims attempt to squirm out of view or simply close their eyes, wishing the photographer to go away. Tokyo Compression depicts an urban hell and by hunting down these commuters with his camera, Wolf highlights their complete vulnerability to the city at its most extreme.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.