The Photography of Erwin Olaf
Born in Hilversum, the Netherlands in July of 1959, Erwin Olaf Springveld is a Dutch photographer known for both his personal and commercial work. He is primarily known for his lush large-format color prints of staged scenes that depict complex and dramatic narratives.
Erwin Olaf studied journalism at the School of Journalism in Utrecht. an important Dutch city with roots back to the eighth-century. He started his photographic career by documenting pre-AIDS gay liberation in Amsterdam’s 1980s nightlife. This work soon led to Olaf’s personal exploration of varied series shot in both black-and-white and color. Assuming the role of both photographer and director, he currently shoots cinematic-styled tableaux whose arrangements and diluted color palettes evoke memories of the early 1960s.
Olaf has been commissioned to photograph advertising campaigns for large international companies including Microsoft, Nokia and Levi’s. His bold approach to photography has led to a number of prestigious collaborations, among which have been Louis Vuitton, Vogue Magazine, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Throughout his forty-year career, Olaf has maintained an activist approach to equality. His diverse series center around the issues of society’s marginalized individuals, including people of color, women and the LBGTQ+ community.
Erwin Olaf designed the national side of the 2013 Euro coins for King Willem-Alexander Koning, which commemorated two-hundred years of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Olaf served in 2017 as the official portrait artist for the Dutch royal family. In 2018, he completed a triptych of photographic and filmic tableaux depicting periods of sudden change in major world cities and their effects. Olaf became a Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands in 2019 after five-hundred works from his oeuvre were added to the collection of the Rijksmuseum. He was awarded the Netherlands’ prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award, as well as Photographer of the Year at the International Color Awards, and Kunstbeeld magazine’s Dutch Artist of the Year.
Among the many photographic series produced by Olaf are the 2005 “Hope, Grief, Rain” which centers on the suspended moment when emotional reaction begins; the 2012 “Berlin” series shot outside of the studio in six different locations in Berlin, sites reminiscent of the city’s past; the 2020 “Im Wald” which was shot purely on location and highlighted isolated people in their relationship to nature; and the 2001-2002 “Paradise Portraits”, a series of close-up shots of party goers at Amsterdam’s renowned Club Paradiso on New Year’s Eve in 2000.
Erwin Olaf’s work has been shown in major galleries throughout the world, including London’s prestigious photographic space Hamiltons Gallery, Berlin’s Wagner + Partner Gallery, Amsterdam’s Flatland Gallery, and the Galerie Magda Danysz in Paris. Museum exhibitions have included the Haifa Museum of Art in Israel, the Fondation Oriente Museu in Macau, the Museo de Arte Contemporaine de Rosario in Argentina, the National Art Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
In the spring of 2019, Olaf’s work was the subject of a double exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography, as well as a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Center of Photography. In the summer of 2021, the Kunsthalle München mounted a major exhibition of 220 artworks, including Olaf’s two most recent series, the 2020 “April Fool” and “Im Wald”, the latter of which was made specially for this show.
Note: More information of Erwin Olaf’s work and extensive exhibitions, including videos in which he explains his work, can be found at London’s Hamiltons Gallery website located at: https://www.hamiltonsgallery.com/artists/erwin-olaf/overview/
Erwin Olaf’s website, which includes contact information and an extensive list of exhibitions, is located at: https://www.erwinolaf.com/art
Top Insert Image: Erwin Olaf, “Self Portrait”, Date Unknown, Color Print
Second Insert Image: Erwin Olaf, “Chessmen XII”, 1988, Gelatin Silver Print, 37.5 x37.5 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Erwin Olaf, “Kleines Requiem II”, 2022, Color Print, Edition of Ten, 110 x 110 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Erwin Olaf, “Self Portrait”, 1985, Gelatin Silver Print, Futomuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands