Photographer’s Profile: Erwin Olaf
40 years of the Dutch Master
The new year brings the sixtieth birthday of Erwin Olaf. And although he’s turning sixty in July, the celebrations have already started. The photographer, who was recently praised for his portraits of the royal Dutch family, will be signing his newest book in our Berenstraat store (on Sunday 24 February, 4PM) and his work can be seen in two The Hague museums and the Amsterdam-based Rijksmuseum. But when did Olaf started his career in photography? And what made him become one of the most famous Dutch photographers of our time?
‘I’d like to show a perfect world, with a crack in it.’
‘I’d like to show a perfect world, with a crack in it.’
Erwin Olaf Springveld grew up in the ‘media capital’ of The Netherlands, Hilversum, and studied at Journalism School in Utrecht. He started his photography career in documentary photography, documenting the gay scene which he was a part of, but soon left documentary photography for creating the heavily staged images we know so well. In the eighties, Olaf’s work was regarded as shocking – which he often did. Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant recently described his work as “a mix of tendon room esthetics, gold kitsch and stilled stagings.”
A large part of Olaf’s work, especially in the eighties and nineties, was provocative. MENDO’s Daan grew up with the work of Erwin Olaf, as the ‘Violence and Passion’ book was on the shelfs of his parents. He vividly remembers ‘Fashion Victims’, a photo series containing naked models wearing paper bags on their heads. “I remember that series to be quite exciting,” Daan says.
When people visit our Berenstraat store, Daan often compares Olaf to Rembrandt. “Not only because Rembrandt van Rijn was the most famous Dutch artist of our Golden Age and Erwin Olaf is one of the most famous Dutch artists of our times, but also because of their strongly comparable style,” he says. “Both men know how to play and experiment successfully with lighting. With both, stately images become especially interesting because of that lighting. They’re both masters of the chiaroscuro, the clair-obscur.”
Erwin Olaf: I AM, Dutch edition
The voluminous new book contains over 240 photographs, ranging from his early work like ‘Chessmen’, to his most recent and unpublished ’Shanghai’ and ‘Palm Springs’ series. Visit the signing session at MENDO or pre-order at MENDO before February 24, to receive a signed copy.
Shop the Dutch edition
Erwin Olaf’s later work would become slightly less provocative, as the photographer increasingly developed his themes through the form of monumental tableaux, both as a photographer and as a director. Daan’s comparison to his work resembling Rembrandt is striking, as Olaf says he has close affinity to both Robert Mapplethorpe and Old Masters such as Rembrandt.
Works of both Masters, Old and New, will be visible under one roof, as Erwin Olaf has recently donated his core collection, spanning his entire career, to the Amsterdam-based Rijksmuseum. “To me, the Rijksmuseum is the museum of The Netherlands,” Olaf said in a Volkskrant interview. “That’s the place where a big part of our history and identity comes together.” And although only a fragment of his Rijksmuseum donation is visible at the moment, it’s now possible to see a major double exhibition of his work in The Hague.
The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and Fotomuseum Den Haag will work together in hosting Olaf’s biggest overview exhibition ever. Olaf likes to say that the joint solo exhibition and the accessory ‘I AM’ book “celebrate 40 years of visual freedom”. Series like ‘Chessmen’, ‘Royal Blood’, ‘Keyhole’ and ‘Grief’ all contain older work of Olaf, but the exhibition will also feature some of his most recent, never before published photography that he shot in Palm Springs.
Even though Dutch museums are looking back on his career, Olaf is already working on new photography projects. He might even return to the documentary photography he left behind him in the eighties, he said to the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland: “With all the technical and substantive knowledge I have gathered over the years, I can now return to some form of reporting. Now, when the museums finally open their gates for my staged photography.”
Erwin Olaf will sign his newest book ‘I AM’, which features photography of the last forty years and serves as a catalogue for the overview exhibition, at MENDO. You are welcome in our 11 Berenstraat flagship store on Sunday 24 February, 4PM. Other books that include work of Olaf or focus on the photographer himself, are The Workshop, MOAM and Rijks.
Erwin Olaf: I AM, English edition
I AM is available in four languages and four colors. At MENDO we offer the Dutch edition (with the blue cover) and the English edition (with the pink cover)
Shop the English edition
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Sunday 24 February 4PM-6PM: book signing session with photographer Erwin Olaf. MENDO, Berenstraat 11 Amsterdam.
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