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An accepted truism is that a great portrait photograph captures a fleeting moment of perfection and reveals honesty in the eyes of the sitter. In inimitable style, Erwin Olaf turns the tables on this concept in his series ‘Fall’ (2008), in which he shot awkward portraits of young models. The models droopy and unfocused, their eyes partly closed. These are not the cute and perky teenagers of Benetton ads, dressed in rainbow-hued knitwear. Instead, Olaf uses the palette of post-war austerity – washed-out colors in the natural hues of cork, straw, marble, teak and terracotta. The five female and five male models are draped in skin-toned colors. Wearing tan and pale pink, Olaf’s models seem nude, though their emotions are camouflaged.
Fall - Isabel, 2008 | Fuji Crystal Archive Digital Paper | Variable dimensions
“I was intrigued by the idea of a portrait in which something is out-of-sync,” explains Erwin Olaf. “It became a new type of sexy, to photograph a beautiful model blinking at the wrong moment, using a camera angle that is slightly wrong. It is disturbing to see this incorrect fraction of a second frozen in a portrait.” – Erwin Olaf
Fall, Still Life 01, 2008 | Fuji Crystal Archive Digital Paper | 40 x 30 cm
The still-lifes from the series Fall (2008) evoke a strange feeling of distance. The tranquil still-lives with flowers presented in a simple ceramic vase have an almost meditative effect on the viewer. They have a timeless and relaxed character in contrast to the more restless attitude of the portraits in the series ‘Fall’. ‘Fall refers to the colors of autumn, but also to a fateful sense of demise – the fall from grace, the fallen angel, the pride before the fall. It denotes a slump, a moment of enfeeblement. The portraits and the spindly floral arrangements function as a sharp reminder of how quickly beauty fades.
About the artist
Erwin Olaf is an internationally exhibiting artist whose diverse practice centers around society’s marginalized individuals, including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019 Olaf became a Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands after 500 works from his oeuvre were added to the collection of the Rijksmuseum. Taco Dibbits, Rijksmuseum director, called Olaf “one of the most important photographers of the final quarter of the 20th century”.Go to the artist page