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Pictures with a clear motive. Ralph Gräf on 'Gassing Up At Roy's'

By Matthew Oxley | 3 years ago

Ralph Gräf is the winner of the Travel category in the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards. He was born in 1965 in a small town south of Munich, Germany. In 2006, his career as a cell biologist brought him from Munich to Potsdam (close to Berlin) where he works as a professor for cell biology at the university.

Together with ten of his friends he is organizing the ‘Photogallery Potsdam’, a successful gallery project to promote contemporary artistic photography.  


Hi Ralph. Why photography?

Because I can't paint! Photography has been with me since I got my first camera from my father at an age of eight. Now it is my medium to act on my creative urges that, unfortunately, I have to neglect during my daily work.


Tell us more about your winning image, ‘Gassing Up At Roy's’

In August 2016 I was on a scientific meeting in Tucson Arizona. Since I love the southwest of the USA with its extreme landscapes and its sometimes quirky roadside attractions I decided to continue my stay for nine further days to take photos for my "Roadside America" series. I travelled through Arizona, New Mexico and California. I encountered the old service area in Amboy, California, located at the historic Route 66. I was there twice to capture the optimal light situation and I had to wait for a while to encounter a situation with a suitable car at the right position for the image I had in mind.


Your work is often quite desolate and sparse. Can you describe your style and photographic process

I'm happy about your characterization of my style. I prefer clearly or even simply composed pictures with a clear motive. To me a good photo should be devoid of distracting elements. Everything should be at the right place and should really feel like it belong in the photo. Thus, if possible I try to arrange the scenery on site in order to avoid too much post-processing and work at the computer. Desolate or abandoned sites have always fascinated me, because they fuel my imagination on what has happened there before. People often say that my photos have a melancholic mood. Maybe they show my other self, since I think nobody who knows me would call me a melancholiac.


Do you have an artistic philosophy?

I think I do. With my photos I want to stimulate emotions, since this is the prerequisite for images to stick in the viewer's mind. These emotions do not necessarily need to be positive, but they have to be there, otherwise the photo is petty. An exception are abstract or architecture photos that simply convince by their decorative value.


What are you currently working on and what's next for you?

I'm currently preparing for two exhibitions, the first one, opening on May 5, shows parts of my series ‘The Traveller’ within a joint exhibition with other artists in Brandenburg/Havel, and the second displays my series ‘Roadside America’ for the first time. It opens on May 11 in Potsdam. With regard to new photos I'd like to continue my series on abandoned plattenbau prefabs, my Holga-portrait of the country of Brandenburg and a series on drab business parks.