Please introduce yourself: What is your name, where are you from, what do you do?
Hi, my name is Ralph Steinegger. I was born 1976 near Zurich. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with maps and later on almost became a cartographer. I always knew that one day I would leave Switzerland to discover the far ends of the world. I moved to Brazil in my early twenties and since then I have been living and working continuously abroad, in Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, New York, Istanbul, and now Singapore.
What is your relationship with photography? How did you get into it and what keeps you interested or motivated?
I started to experiment with film cameras early on when I was 19. But what really got me into photography was when I stayed in Cairo for one month at the age of 23, on my first trip outside of Europe. The sheer size of the city, the urban chaos, and the extreme contrasts, it all felt foreign and therefore utterly fascinating to me. The camera helped me not just to document but also to understand and made me go to places where otherwise I wouldn’t necessarily dare to go. This urge to discover never really left me.
To be in a foreign environment, equipped just with my camera, and to be able to explore it with my own eyes, is the definition of freedom to me. It is what I will do for the rest of my life.
I am fascinated with the aesthetics of urban spaces, in particular of the fast-growing cities in the developing world; their contradictions, their irresistible mix of growth and decay, fading colors, and things slightly out of place. I guess part of this goes back to my childhood in Switzerland, where I grew up in this often picture perfect environment, where things are well maintained and everything has its proper place. Getting older, I am starting to wonder how I would approach photography were I to go back to live in Switzerland. But then, Singapore so far has been a similar experience, in the sense that it is more challenging to find the kind of contrasts I am usually looking for.
What are you currently working on, and — if there is — what is your next project or journey?
I am currently working on two series. ‹(Dis)Orderly / Southeast Asia› focuses on the urban landscape of Southeast Asian cities like Jakarta, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh, which in the first half of the 20th century used to be small, pleasant and orderly, and are now among the fastest growing cities in the world. The other series is on Singapore and is titled ‹The Air-Conditioned Nation›, after a book by Singaporean writer Cherian George. In this series I loosely approach themes I think are important to understand the Singapore of today, such as individual autonomy, social control, mastery of our natural environment, and the calming effects of pastel colors. Besides, I recently published a photobook on Istanbul titled ‹The City with many Names›, together with Steve Bisson from Urbanautica. Steve gave me advice not only on my new website, but also on the focus of my work in general. I am very thankful for his support.
Thank you Ralph!
© Ralph Steinegger