Hilversum, Netherlands, 1959.
He studied journalism in the School of Journalism in Utrecht. He began his professional career in the 80's, establishing his studio and place of work in an old church. Olaf's photography is a mixture of photo-journalism and study. In 1988 he received first prize in the Young European Photographer Competition for his photographic series Chessmen. After this prize, he exhibited his work in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany.
Video and cinema offer him new artistic possibilities to explore. His first film Tadzio in 1991, co-directed with the painter F. Franciscus led to other films of comics for children on television, short films, video clips and assignments for the Dutch National Ballet.
Over time, he has travelled the distance that goes from the close stridency of advertising that brings concepts to the citizens for consumption, to the coldness of distance, and even the hostility of the isolated individual that does not interact with others.
He reflects the hieratic image of the human being, discontent with its hostile environment, lacking relationships. His work is daring and provocative. His photographs are always accompanied by controversy, due to the way in which he shows reality.
The characters that appear in his photographs look at the spectator with unease and seek the warmth of a relationship, of contact, of communication in order to come out of themselves, of their isolation and of the mystery in which they are enveloped.
The artist perfectly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the characters are immersed and places them before the spectator so that they can begin a dialogue. However, this is impossible due to their self-absorption, which provokes reactions of indifference and compassion. Each individual, as the artist himself has sometimes stated, has an invisible wall built around themselves, whether self-constructed or imposed by society.
With these photographs, he manages to stir up the spectator's feelings towards repulsion or affection due to the sensation of loneliness transmitted by the characters. At the same time, he brings to light the taboos, double morals and everything that society attempts to hide.
He is an artist that is committed to society, combining an intense activity as an advertising photographer.
His short films show environments that are similar to those represented in his photographs. Despite the fact that sometimes he uses the same models to star in both, they do not necessarily express the same emotional states, because they are not acting in the same narrative line. The cinema expands the registers of the artistic possibilities.
In Olaf's words: "visual impact has strong effects, and I am discovering the way in which this can add so much to the still images."
The techniques that Olaf uses in his work are inspired by films from the seventies: the glamorous zooming by Visconti, the extreme close-ups by Antonioni, the turbulent montages used by Nicholas Roeg in Don't Look Now, the bloodshed in Carrie by Brian de Palma, the wide-angle shots in The Shining.
Erwin Olaf has exhibited his work in important solo exhibitions, both nationally and internationally. We can highlight: the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, the Kunsthalle, Winterthur in Switzerland, the Museum of the City of New York, the Modern Art Gallery in Bologna in Italy, the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow in Russia, the Photography Museum in The Hague, Foto Museum in Antwerp, Domus Artium in Salamanca, in the Hermitage in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and in La Sucrière in Lyon in France.
He is very famous for his commercial work, and has been responsible for photographing advertising campaigns for large international companies such as Microsoft, Nokia, Heineken, BMW, Virgin, Diesel, Levi’s, Audi and Nintendo.
Two of his campaigns (Diesel and Heineken) have received the Silver Lion award at the Cannes Advertising Festival.
His work is exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world.
He lives and works in Amsterdam.
Works in the collection: