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BOOK

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REVIEW

Hong Kong: Front Door/Back Door By Michael Wolf.Thames & Hudson, 2005. 120pp. £29.99

Michael Wolf's Hong Kong is not the neon-lit, never-stop tourists' dream from the travel brochures. His city seems strangely empty - an eerie, dirty landscape almost entirely devoid of people.

Photographs of endless, concrete tower-block facades meet with close-ups of makeshift chairs in grimy back alleys to create an intriguing, unpopulated world. But even in the pictures of the skyscrapers there are hints - like bright curtains or washing lines - that point to an existence behind the anonymous exteriors.

These vast canvases of modern, high-rise architecture often resemble textile designs.

In many of them it is difficult to get your bearings, with few clues to help you understand the scale or orientation of the repetitive rows of balconies, windows and air-conditioning units. It is hard to believe some of these massive, never-ending panoramas have not been created by stitching different photographs together.

The surprise in this book - with its 71 beautiful colour images - is the contrast between shots of towering apartments and more intimate portraits of life at ground level. Pictures of mops wedged behind mucky pipes, and paper cups rammed on metal fences expose the reality of the daily grind and the squalor of parts of the city.

To tie these images together Wolf relies on recurring splashes of colour - but if there is one criticism of this beguiling book, it's that this leads to some contrived set-pieces. A dyed pink poodle on a table is a step too far and an unneeded artificial diversion.

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