Erwin Olaf was born in 1959 in Hilversum, The Netherlands, and currently lives in Amsterdam.
Olaf's art implicitly visualises the unspoken, the overlooked, that which typically resists easy documentation. Olaf's trademark is to address social issues, taboos and bourgeois conventions within the framework of a highly stylised and cunning mode of imagery. With the aid of his razor-sharp aesthetic intuition, Olaf purposely conceals his themes so that the viewer unconsciously and initially accepts the concealment found in his photo series. Yet in the end, his unconventional style never fails to deliver dramatic visual and emotional impact. By providing scenic and striking design, along with the utmost perfect composition in his typical, immaculate 'OWN' style, combined with his passion for conceiving flawless scenarios, he vividly captures the essence of contemporary life.
Mixing photojournalism with studio photography, Olaf emerged on 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. In his earlier work on the subject of social exclusion Olaf was deliberately disturbing with the intention of raising awareness and he was dedicated towards exploring issues of class, race, sexual taste, beliefs, habits and grace. In the series Rain (2004), Hope (2005), Grief (2007) and Fall (2008) Olaf challenges the notion of domestic bliss. Dusk (2009) and Dawn (2010) show how culture can become repression, despite a beautiful appearance. A similar disengagement takes place in Olaf's Hotel (2010) series in which he explores the subtle range of detached melancholic emotions in dimly-lit exquisitely furnished timeless hotel rooms. In the series The Siege and Relief of Leiden (2011) Olaf depicts a number of now iconic scenes from the relief and brings the leading figures together in a dramatic setting. His recent series Keyhole (2011/2012), centered around Erwin Olaf's first 3D installation The Keyhole (already in the collection of the Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, The Netherlands and the Samsung Children's Museum, Seoul, South Korea) balances on the thin line between intimacy, shame and feelings of guilt. In 2012 Erwin Olaf created the series Berlin, entirely shot on location. Using historically important settings in Berlin, Olaf shows children and (young) adults in a transcendent relation with each other.
In 1987 Olaf began working with film, which has since then continued to be an important medium for his art. Often these movies provide a parallel history to his colour photography. In the past years Olaf's films have been screened at several leading museums and film festivals all around the world, including Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Museum at FIT, New York City.
Erwin Olaf has had numerous important group and solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including George Eastman House, Rochester, USA; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Chelsea Art Museum, New York; Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem; Kunsthalle, Winterthur, Switzerland and the Museum of the City of New York, New York.
Solo exhibitions include the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Bilbao Art Centre, Bilbao, Spain; Groninger Museum, the Netherlands; MonteVideo, Amsterdam; Modern Art Gallery of Bologna, Bologna, Italy; Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia; The Hague Museum of Photography, The Hague; Photo Museum Antwerp, Antwerp; Institut Néerlandais, Paris; Domus Artium, Salamanca; Hermitage, Amsterdam; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and La Sucrière, Lyon, France.
© Erwin Olaf