Erwin Olaf is a Dutch photographer known for his specific portraiture. Olaf stages his large-scale images in a cinematic fashion with orchestrated sets and dramatic lighting. His practice often explores issues of historical and contemporary importance. Born in 1959 in Hilversum, Netherlands, the artist works between the worlds of both fine and commercial photography as well as photojournalism. Starting his career as a photojournalist documenting the nightlife of the 1980s, Olaf increasingly sought and defined his own subjects, often explored in series of works in black and white (Squares, Chessmen, and Blacks) and color (Mind of Their Own, Rain, Hope, Grief, Dusk, and Dawn).
Your work has a very particular aesthetics, a wonderland dream world if I may, where does it come from?
Thank you for your compliment. I do try to create my own world in a way. I am a perfectionist, and to achieve this view it is easier for me to create a world instead of working in the ‘real’ world. Although I must admit that in recent years I have worked more and more on location (the ‘real’ world) and this has liberated me in some ways. The inspiration for my photography comes mostly from the world around me, from my travels, films I see, books I read, people I meet. A second factor is that what you see first, the constructed world, is designed to guide you to the idea/thought that is in the artwork. So the shell is a roadmap to what I am trying to convey.
What camera do you usually use?
I have used a Hasselblad for many years now. Since I work digitally I use Phase 1, IQ digital back.
In my understanding David Bowie had an important role in your life, can you tell us about it?
I was a huge fan of David Bowie in my younger years, his music inspired me to be a rockstar for a very very short lived moment in the 70s, his image and fluidity inspired my view of gender.
One project you have always on your mind but didn’t release yet?
I cannot say too much about that, because usually when it is on my mind but not done yet it means the idea has not ‘cooked’ enough in my mind. I would like to further continue working on a series of portraits of Jewish and Moroccan people. I did this in the Netherlands and would like to expand this to other countries where there still are lively minority communities.
What are you working on these days?
Mostly I am working on my upcoming exhibitions in Brescia, (at Paci), in Toronto (Izzy Gallery), Munich (KunstHalle) and Paris (Rabouan Moussion) and Korea (Suwon Ipark Museum).