Urak Lawoi by Ralf Obergfell

Ralf Obergfell is a photographer based in Germany. This collection of portraits has taken shape following his near-death experience in 2004 when the Asian Tsunami struck and the small fishing boat Ralf was travelling in nearly capsized off the coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. In the years since the tsunami, Ralf has been privileged to continually return to the region and strengthen the connection he shares with the Urak Lawoi people. His photographs document the growth of this relationship and his reverence for this culture which is as unique and beautiful as the tropical landscapes it inhabits. Created over the course of twelve years, these portraits offer an intimate view of everyday life in a region that is at the battlefront of globalisation and climate change.

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“Shifts, flows, transformations – these processes capture my imagination and I use my camera to trace the paths of developments, sometimes over the course of many years, whether it’s the rising surge of globalisation and climate change in Southeast Asia or an intimate rite of passage in the life of a young man in post-capitalist Europe.
I want my photographs to capture the sites of change, giving a glimpse of the interface – a space of complete paradox – at which we mourn what has been lost, even as we are turning towards what has been gained. For me, those moments often embody deep uncertainty and vulnerability, but also celebration and ecstasy. My objects may seek comfort in rituals to fulfil their fantasies of permanence. ”

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“I give my viewers a direct image of these deeply human turning points, these instants of doubt, shyness or hesitation, as well as the thrill of transformative life experiences. My artistic world summons ghosts from our shared past into the present, revealing the power of the relic, which is at once stabilising and highly disruptive. Here, the boundaries that define us become ephemeral. Young men blossom into angels for a fleeting night of unforgettable beauty. Meanwhile, globalisation rises to new tipping points, threatening to wash over local identities like a tsunami wave while my subjects and I paddle on the crest of a life-changing wave.”

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Text by Will Gibbens.