Erwin Olaf

Born 1959, Holland

A true free spirit, Olaf started his career as a photojournalist in the late eighties. When choreographer Hans van Manen brings him into contact with the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, Paul Blanca, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Joel-Peter Witkin, he no longer is satisfied with mere registration. Developing from his black-and-white journalistic work, his studio photography becomes all about perfectionism and meaning.

Olaf emerged onto the international art scene in 1988 when his series Chessmen was awarded the first prize in the Young European Photographer competition. This award was followed by an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany in the same year. Deliberately disturbing and intending to raise awareness, Olaf committed himself in his earliest and subsequent work to the subject of social exclusion: those of us who are excluded from the ranks of society because of class, race, sexual taste, beliefs, habits, looks or any other feature that is classified in the general bourgeois idea as inopportune.

Erwin Olaf’s art visualizes implicitly the unspoken and the overlooked that typically resist easy documentation. Olaf’s trademark is to address social issues, taboos, and bourgeois conventions in a highly stylized and cunning mode of image-making. With his razor-sharp aesthetic intuition, Olaf purposely conceals his themes, so that the viewer has to accept the initial concealment in Olaf’s photo series. Yet in the end, his unconventional style never fails to deliver dramatic visual and emotional impact. By taking care in the scenery and lighting design, and ensuring the perfect composition in his typical, immaculate ‘Olafian’ way, together with his passion for flawlessly conceiving scenarios, Olaf vividly captures the essence of contemporary life.

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