|Education||University of the Arts London (London College of Printing), London|
|Notable work||Last Stop Routemasters, Beautiful Freaks, Urak Lawoi|
|Awards||Permanent Archival (British Library)|
Ralf Obergfell is a German photographer known for his artistic portraits, travel photography, photojournalism and his book and exhibition Last Stop Routemasters, which focuses on the general phase-out of the AEC Routemaster double-decker bus in London in the early 2000s. Last Stop Routemasters was displayed at the London Transport Museum in 2008, accompanied by an interactive website which was later permanently archived for preservation by the British Library. Obergfell has worked extensively in Southeast Asia and was an eye-witness to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, nearly drowning off the coast of Thailand.
Ralf Obergfell was born in Freiburg, Germany in 1971 and grew up in nearby Staufen im Breisgau. He lived in London from 1991 to 2010 where he trained at the University of the Arts London, gaining his bachelor of arts in 1999. Obergfell currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany and travels extensively in Southeast Asia.
Last Stop Routemasters
Obergfell lived in London from 1991 to 2010. In 2004, he joined Photodebut, a London-based collective of twenty-five emerging photographic artists. His work later appeared in Case Study, an art photography volume released by the collective. His first solo exhibition Last Stop: Routemasters, focusing on design, cultural and social aspects of the AEC Routemaster, was shown at the London Transport Museum in 2008. Critical response to the exhibition and associated multimedia projects were very positive with Time Out London describing it as "a plumbline to the reservoir of emotions associated with the [Routemaster]." The eponymous book accompanying the exhibition was later nominated for the London And/Or Photography Book Prize.
Referring to the sensuous style of the photography, long-time BBC broadcaster Robert Elms said of Last Stop Routemasters, 'it's beautiful [...] it's almost bus porn'. The project was described in ArtReview as '[a]n invaluable account of what some say is the greatest bus on earth'. The project was also reviewed positively in Time Out London where it was called '[a] fascinating set of photographs' and was featured in the magazine's "Critic's Choice" section in June 2008. The reviewer for Obergfell's hometown newspaper, the Badische Zeitung wrote that 'the photographs have a timeless quality and will serve as an important reminder for generations to come'.
Working in creative collaboration with acclaimed artist Jonny Woo and DJs Per QX and Nic Fisher, Obergfell co-organized the popular LGBT club event Gutterslut in London during this period. Gutterslut was later referred to by The Guardian as 'an East London staple'. Time Out London frequently included the event among its critics picks, touting it as 'East London's most hedonistic polysexual tranny bash'. Gutterslut attracted attention from international partygoers, drag artists and celebrities such as the Pet Shop Boys whose singer Neil Tennant said of the party: "'These days, we often go to Berghain [the infamous Berlin club] on a Sunday lunchtime, or Gutterslut in east London. [...] I personally like crazy nights with ridiculous drag queens, not people taking photos of the DJ all night.'"
In the summer of 2012, Obergfell, together with his fellow Gutterslut organisers, hosted the Big Top stage at London's annual Lovebox Festival in Victoria Park. Gutterslut hosted renowned underground artists DJ Hell and Felix da Housecat at XOYO in London in 2014.
Obergfell's involvement in Gutterslut, a pivotal cultural event for the East London alternative and queer scene at the time, would significantly influence his work as a photographer. During this period, Obergfell began to experiment with artistic portrait photography. Working in collaboration with installation artist Tony Hornecker, he created his second solo exhibition, Beautiful Freaks, in 2009, which was first shown at the Dalston Superstore with photographs featuring drag artists who appeared at East London nightclubs around that time. The Dalston Superstore referred to Obergfell's photographs as "images that will become historical, and mark a period in time."
Critical reception for Beautiful Freaks was positive despite the controversial subject matter, which featured depictions of "many wonderful and depraved acts" according to the gallery. In an interview with i-D magazine, Obergfell described the project as "a portraiture series and a tribute to our friends, some of London's most iconic creatures of the night." The show was later selected to be displayed at the Royal College of Art in London as part of the Gender and Performance group show.
Starting in 2004, Obergfell has regularly worked in Southeast Asia, creating photographic travelogues and working on photojournalistic projects in Indonesia (Bali, Borneo), Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. He was photographing at sea on a fishing boat when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami occurred. The boat was nearly capsized by the tidal wave. Obergfell's storytelling and photography related to this incident have been featured in various international media, including OutThere/Travel, The Guardian and BBC World Service radio programme Outlook.
Documentary photographs taken by Obergfell of the Urak Lawoi were used in the 2007 UNESCO study The Urak Lawoi' of the Adang Archipelago, Thailand by Supin Wongbusarakum. Obergfell collected his photographs taken throughout the region for an exhibition called Urak Lawoi. Selections from the collection were shown in Berlin in 2016. A group exhibition will be featured in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia in 2017 and a solo exhibition will take place in London.
In 2010 Obergfell moved to Berlin when his long-time collaborator Tony Honecker became a resident artist at the Prinzessinnengarten where he staged installation art under the moniker Pale Blue Door.
Obergfell soon opened his photographic studio in Neukölln in 2010 to pursue his various artistic projects. He revived his Beautiful Freaks exhibition in 2012 in Berlin. The revival of Beautiful Freaks was widely praised by local and international press. Selections from the exhibition were shown on the blog Faceculture. The Berliner Zeitung referred to the exhibition as "twisted and wonderful".
Until 2013, Obergfell continued to organise Gutterslut events at the Berlin clubs Sisyphos, Vögelchen (formerly Hubertuslounge) and Chalet.
His recent work includes an ongoing series entitled Poikas which focuses on artistic portrait photography of men, using amateur models. The series examines expressions of everyday masculinity in the context of late-capitalism and gentrification.
Obergfell's work has regularly been well received by critics in both local and international media. Reviews and features of his projects have appeared on the BBC, in The Guardian, ArtReview, Creative Review, Time Out, I-d, Pin-Up and Vogue, among others.
The interactive website accompanying his Last Stop Routemasters exhibition and book, as well as a portrait he took of drag queens, have been selected by the British Library for permanent archival in the interest of national heritage.
- Last Stop Routemasters (2004-2008) – exhibition, book and interactive website
- Beautiful Freaks (2005-2010) – installation and exhibition; (2012) revival exhibition
- Urak Lawoi (2004-present) – exhibition opens in 2017
- Gutterslut (2007-2014) – recurring nightlife event
- Poikas (2012–present) – ongoing portrait series
- "BBC News - In pictures - Routemaster retrospective". BBC News.
- http://www.routemasters.co.uk. "Routemasters - Last Stop!". Archived from the original on April 5, 2006.
- Obergfell, Ralf (22 January 2016). "Experience: I was out at sea when a tsunami struck". The Guardian.
- a plumbline to the reservoir of emotions associated with the RM
- Nunez-Fernandes, Lupe (2005-11-01). "Check it out". ArtReview. London: ArtReview.
- Walters, Ben (2005-11-16). "The End of the Road". Time Out London. London: Time Out.
- "Around Town: Critic's Choice". Time Out London. London: Time Out. 2008-06-12.
- Müller, Susanne (2008-06-21). "Last Stop: Fazination Doppeldecker". Badische Zeitung. Freiburg im Bresgau. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
- Zeitung, Berliner. "Fotografien von Ralf Obergfell: "Beautiful Freaks" in Berlin".
- "Ralf Obergfell Brings 'Beautiful Freaks' to Berlin". 21 November 2012.
- Anderson, James (2009-12-01). "Tony Honecker's colorful world lies behind a pale blue door". Pin-Up. London.
- Sanbegi, Ha (2006-01-01). "Last Stop!". Vogue Girl Korea.
- "UK Web Archive".