Ralf Obergfell

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Ralf Obergfell
Ralf Obergfell 2016-2.jpg
Ralf Obergfell

EducationUniversity of the Arts London (London College of Printing), London
Known forphotography
Notable work
Last Stop Routemasters, Gutterslut, Beautiful Freaks, Urak Lawoi, Poikas
AwardsPermanent Archival (British Library)

Ralf Obergfell is a German photographer known for his long-term projects dealing with change and transformation of his subjects over extended periods of time.


Obergfell was born in Freiburg, Germany and grew up in nearby Staufen im Breisgau.[1] 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.[2] Obergfell currently lives and works in Berlin and travels extensively in Southeast Asia.[2]


Last Stop Routemasters (2004–2008)[edit]

Obergfell lived in London from 1991 to 2010.[2] In 2004, he joined Photodebut, a London-based collective of twenty-five emerging photographic artists.[3] His work later appeared in Case Study, an art photography volume released by the collective.[4] 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, accompanied by an interactive website which was later permanently archived for preservation by the British Library.[5] Critical response to the exhibition and associated multimedia projects was positive, with Time Out London describing it as "a plumbline to the reservoir of emotions associated with the [Routemaster]."[6] The eponymous book accompanying the exhibition was later nominated for the London And/Or Photography Book Prize.[7] Photos from the series also appeared in the book Cult Masterpieces: Icons of Our Generation, by Dirk Alt and Birgit Niefanger[8].

In 2005, BBC broadcaster Robert Elms said of the style of the photography in Last Stop Routemasters, 'it's beautiful [...] it's almost bus porn'.[9] The project was described in ArtReview as '[a]n invaluable account of what some say is the greatest bus on earth'.[10] 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.[11][12] 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'.[13]

Gutterslut (2007–2014)[edit]

Working in creative collaboration with artist Jonny Woo and DJs Per QX and Nic Fisher, Obergfell co-founded the LGBT club event Gutterslut in London during this period.[14][15] Gutterslut was later referred to by The Guardian as "an East London staple".[16] Time Out London described it as "East London's most hedonistic polysexual tranny bash".[17] Gutterslut was attended by partygoers, drag artists and celebrities including 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.'"[18]

In the summer of 2012, Obergfell, together with his fellow Gutterslut organisers, hosted the Big Top stage at the annual Lovebox Festival in Victoria Park, London.[19] Gutterslut hosted artists DJ Hell and Felix da Housecat at XOYO in London in 2014.[20]

Beautiful Freaks (2005–2010)[edit]

Obergfell's involvement in Gutterslut significantly influenced 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."[21]

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."[22] 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.[7][23]

Southeast Asia[edit]

Urak Lawoi (2004–2017)[edit]

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.[24][25]

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.[26] 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 featured in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia in 2017.[27]


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.[28]

Obergfell opened his photographic studio in Neukölln in 2010. He revived his Beautiful Freaks exhibition in 2012 in Berlin,[29] which received positive reviews in both local and international press.[30] The Berliner Zeitung referred to the exhibition as "twisted and wonderful".[29]

Until 2013, Obergfell continued to hold Gutterslut events at the Berlin clubs Sisyphos, Vögelchen (formerly Hubertuslounge) and Chalet.

In 2019, Obergfell's photograph titled "Phallus Warmer," part of the Vogue Fabrics Archive, was included in the VFD10 - Punish the Streets exhibition at New Art Projects gallery in London.[31] It depicts a male model wearing a knitted willy warmer. Both the photograph and the original knitted warmer were displayed during the exhibition, mounted on aluminium panels.

Poikas (2012–2017)[edit]

In late 2017 at his Berlin studio, Obergfell launched Poikas, a photo exhibition and catalogue of work spanning a five-year period.[32] Poikas focuses on artistic portrait photography of men, using amateur models. The series uses impromptu, experimental lighting and intimate close-ups. Poikas examines expressions of everyday masculinity and sexuality in contemporary Berlin, in the context of late-capitalism and ongoing gentrification.[32] Selections from the Poikas series were included in the exhibition Boys! Boys! Boys! at The Little Black Gallery in London in 2018, curated by Paddle8.[33]


  • Last Stop Routemasters. London: British Library, 2008. ISBN 9781859836101.


Obergfell's work is held in the following permanent collection:

  • British Library, London: The interactive website accompanying his Last Stop Routemasters exhibition and book, as well as a portrait he took of drag queens[5]


  1. ^ Ralf Obergfell
  2. ^ a b c Ralf Obergfell
  3. ^ https://www.creativereview.co.uk/keep-on-truckin/
  4. ^ "Keep on Truckin'! - Creative Review". creativereview.co.uk. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  5. ^ a b http://www.routemasters.co.uk. "Routemasters - Last Stop!". Archived from the original on February 4, 2008.
  6. ^ "Routemaster: the end of the road". Time Out London. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  7. ^ a b Ralf Obergfell. "Press /". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  8. ^ Alt, Dirk. Cult Masterpieces: Icons of Our Generation. Tectum. ISBN 978-90-76886-64-0.
  9. ^ "Interview : Routemasters by Ralf Obergfell". routemasters.co.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  10. ^ Nunez-Fernandes, Lupe (2005-11-01). "Check it out". ArtReview. London: ArtReview.
  11. ^ Walters, Ben (2005-11-16). "The End of the Road". Time Out London. London: Time Out.
  12. ^ "Around Town: Critic's Choice". Time Out London. London: Time Out. 2008-06-12.
  13. ^ Müller, Susanne (2008-06-21). "Last Stop: Fazination Doppeldecker". Badische Zeitung. Freiburg im Bresgau. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
  14. ^ Ralf Obergfell. "Press /". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  15. ^ http://www.gutterslut.net/#press
  16. ^ "Pick of the week: Clubs". 26 June 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2017 – via The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Gutterslut at East Bloc - House, disco and techno". timeout.com. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  18. ^ Metro, Arwa Haider for (5 July 2013). "Pet Shop Boys: We're in control of our destiny". metro.co.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  19. ^ "Emeli Sandé, Azealia Banks for Lovebox". digitalspy.com. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  20. ^ "GUTTERSLUT PRESENTS DJ HELL + FELIX DA HOUSECAT Tickets - XOYO, London". ticketarena.co.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  21. ^ "'BEAUTIFUL FREAKS'from RALF OBERGFELL + TONY HORNECKER". gallerysuperstore.blogspot.de. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  22. ^ Ralf Obergfell. "Press /". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Leading Contemporary Artists Participate in Gender and Performance Events at the RCA". rca.ac.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  24. ^ Obergfell, Ralf (22 January 2016). "Experience: I was out at sea when a tsunami struck". Retrieved 1 May 2017 – via The Guardian.
  25. ^ "Forced to 'surf' a tsunami, Outlook - BBC World Service". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  26. ^ http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001523/152346e.pdf
  27. ^ "AWE•SOME FENIX Art Gallery". awe-some-fenix.com. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  28. ^ "Moving to Berlin (Solo): Ralf Obergfell (Gutterslut): (interview)". trackitdown.net. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  29. ^ a b Zeitung, Berliner. "Fotografien von Ralf Obergfell: "Beautiful Freaks" in Berlin".
  30. ^ "Ralf Obergfell Brings 'Beautiful Freaks' to Berlin". 21 November 2012.
  31. ^ http://newartprojects.com/events/punish-the-streets/
  32. ^ a b "Poikas: Studio Ralf Obergfell". PiB – Photography in Berlin. 31 October 2017. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  33. ^ "Boys! Boys! Boys!". Paddle8. Retrieved 2019-02-28.

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