Exhibition + Book Release + Studio Closing
Studio Ralf Obergfell
Poikas (Boys) is an analogue photo series I shot using a Leica camera in my Berlin studio between 2012 and 2017. It portrays a special type of young men: ‘the boy next door’, whom I met in everyday situations in Berlin and ultimately photographed. Poikas sheds light on the self-consciousness and vulnerability often hiding beneath the façade of youthful masculinity.
When I moved from London to Berlin in 2010, I was searching for a creative space where I could develop further as an artist. In Neukölln, along the path of the Berlin Wall, I found what I was looking for.
I discovered an old storefront from the fin de siècle era and began renovating it with a group of friends. As I exhaustedly stared at the rough, oil-painted walls and their wonderful Jugendstil decorations, I suddenly saw Poikas posing and fantasising in this room.
For me, Poikas were and are young men in whom I see a reflection of myself in my twenties. They are connected by a youthful face and body language which is very captivating to me. To me, they embody vitality, self-consciousness, vulnerability, kindness, mystery, closeness as well as distance.
I often recognised Poikas in young men who were complete strangers to me, in everyday situations and in many different places throughout Berlin. I told them about my project and left it up to them to decide whether they would get back in touch with me.
If they were interested, the next step was to arrange a meeting in my studio. For the shoot, it was extremely important to me that the Poikas felt comfortable and trusted me. So, first we would exchange ideas and get to know each other. This gave rise to a symbiosis in which my task was to find out who and what they really are and what they want to reveal.
Each shoot was left up to coincidence and fantasy. There was no script or rulebook. Each Poika brought his own outfits and favourite music. It was exactly this spontaneity that allowed me to experiment with various lighting sources, roll films, bubbles and effects using the fog machine.
The shoots lasted anywhere from one to eighteen hours and, during these five incredible years in the studio, many harmonious friendships came to life.
All of the Poikas always had one thing in common: we always shot our way into an adrenaline frenzy!
Ralf Obergfell (Freiburg, Germany) is renowned internationally for his photographic art spanning multiple genres. Between 1991 and 2010, he lived and worked in London. His long-term project and solo debut Last Stop: Routemasters (2008) garnered widespread acclaim, including permanent archival status by the British Library. The project resulted in a London Photography Book Prize-nominated book. Active in East London’s underground art and nightlife scene throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Obergfell co-founded the legendary avant-garde club night GutterSlut. Later, he documented the era in his multimedia exhibition Beautiful Freaks (2009), which sparked controversy upon its opening at the Royal College of Art for its provocative subject matter. An eye-witness and survivor of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, he has travelled widely throughout Southeast Asia, documenting everyday life in the region for his Urak Lawoi photo series (2004-2017). Images from his travels appeared in the UNESCO publication The Urak Lawoi of the Adang Archipelago. His photographic work and writing have featured in numerous international media including the BBC, The Guardian, ArtReview, i-D and Vogue. Obergfell currently lives in Berlin.