Erwin Olaf

Erwin Olaf is one of Holland’s most acclaimed contemporary photographers. Famous for his mis-en-scène and highly theatrical compositions, Olaf weaves complex and dramatic narratives into his still photographs. His work is frequently exhibited and included in numerous contemporary art and photography museums internationally.

The ‘Berlin’ series is a significant departure from Olaf’s previous projects as it is one of his first to be shot outside the studio in six different historical locations throughout the city.


The picture’s narratives are ever-shifting and filled with tension as the viewer is confronted with a powerful range of imagery which reminisces of the city’s past. 


In the words of critic Francis Hogdson: “There are the grand elements from history, which are like the bits of legend or myth or biblical story that make up the plots of opera. Here is a broad hinted reminder of the great Jesse Owens, carrying off the plaudits at Hitler’s own Olympiad, and making a mockery of the Chancellor’s racism in doing so. Here’s the peculiar sub-culture of the duelling clubs, there’s a kid who looks uncomfortably like an enthusiastic recruit to the Hitler Youth, with his slicked hair and his black leather gloves. […] Olaf uses them to take us through a range of moods, exactly as opera does…”


Erwin Olaf: Berlin an accompanying exhibition catalogue was published in 2012, containing essays by Francis Hodgson, and Maartje van der Heuvel, of the University of Leiden.