Born in 1959 in Hilversum (the Netherlands), lives in Amsterdam (the Netherlands).
Erwin 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. The 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 Erwin Olaf shows children and (young) adults in a transcendent relation with each other. In 2014 a new multimedia project named Waiting will be shown for the first time to the public.