Ladies Hats

For his series Ladies Hats, the Dutch photographer was spurred on by the fact that men stopped wearing hats, while headdresses were fashionable throughout Western art history till the late nineteenth century. Inspired by Rembrandt, Olaf adopted the technique of chiaroscuro to create a series of portraits of men wearing ladies’ hats. The models look at us with piercing and sometimes flirtatious glances, seducing the viewer with their extravagant hats and expressive poses. Yet, beneath the elegant façade of the image lies hidden a more serious story. By playing with the androgyny of his models, Olaf opposes the heteronormativity of the predominant macho culture. Above all, this series which Olaf started in 1985 and resumed working on in 2018, is a celebration of being different.

Installation views of Ladies Hats at Galerie Ron Mandos, 2021

Ladies Hats - Jan, 1992

Erwin Olaf

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Ladies Hats - Herman, 1986

Erwin Olaf

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Ladies Hats - Jeremiah II-FC, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Since the beginning of his artistic career, Erwin Olaf has been working on the Ladies Hats series, which initially only consisted of black­ and­ white photographs. It was not until his latest photographs from 2020 that he decided to also create new compositions in color. Olaf’s fascination with seventeenth ­century painters like Rembrandt van Rijn and Frans Hals, as well as the fact that men would wear headdresses in portraits throughout the nineteenth century — whereas this accessory has now largely disap­peared from fashion — inspired him to create the series. Olaf took sometimes extravagant women’s hats from different eras and asked his models, initially acquain­tances from the Amsterdam nightlife, to pose with them. He photographed the young men, only wearing a hat, in the style of a typical portrait painting, either frontally, in profile, or in three­ quarter profile. Never does one see the whole person; the compositions range from the bust to the half­ length figure.

The intense light­ dark contrasts created by the selective illumination of the sitter against a dark background are reminiscent of the Baroque design principle of chiaroscuro. Light and shadow swirl around the naked upper body, emphasizing muscles, tendons, and bone structures and lend the nudes a sense of pronounced plasticity. In the process, Olaf attached a great deal of artistic attention to ensuring that the immaculate skin of his models appears like a smooth marble surface. In works such as Hennie (1985), which can formally be linked to Rembrandt’s early self­-portrait from around 1628.

 

Ladies Hats - Hennie, 1985

Erwin Olaf

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Hennie alongside Rembrandt van Rijn in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 2019. Photograph by Gerrit Schreurs

“When I looked again at the old photos in 2018, I saw that they are very uniform and white. The world has changed tremendously in the meantime. Moreover, social debate about gender has increased and the public is a bit more receptive to it. Now is the time to shatter the excessive forms of machismo in our society, this time around, with the beauty and the boys of today.”

Erwin Olaf

Ladies Hats - Jeremiah I, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Niek, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Postures

The tension manifested in the angle formed by the shoulder and neck is further increased by the ratio of the arms stretched straight forward and the coquettishly curved posture. In addition to the expressive poses of the protagonists, which emphasize the delicacy and sensuality of their appearance, and their sometimes-lascivious looks, the selected headgear underlines the femininity of the men.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe, Smutty, 1980

Ladies Hats - Moos I-FC, 2020

Erwin Olaf

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Like Olaf’s early work, this series also shows the influence of Robert Mapplethorpe. The square format of the images is characteristic of the Hasselblad camera of the iconic V­ Series, which not only the American photographer preferred, but which Olaf still works with to this day. In addition to formal parallels, there are also major stylistic similarities. Especially Mapplethorpe’s photo Smutty from 1980, for which he photographed the shirtless Stephen Dennis Smith (nicknamed “Smutty”), bassist of the rocka­billy band Levi and the Rockats, can be seen as a reference. The attitude, playing with androgyny, and the vulnerability of the young musician expressed in his gaze are reflected in Ladies Hats.

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”.

Silver Gelatin Print editions

Since a couple of years silver gelatin prints have re-emerged in Erwin Olaf’s work. Developed in 1871, silver gelatin printing is a process that’s associated with the black-and-white work of early-20th century photographers. Due to its beauty and archival quality, it is considered to be the gold standart in analogue black and white photography printing. With this process Olaf goes back to his photographic roots. Subsequently, for each work in the Ladies Hats series he created an exclusive edition, using his craft in the darkroom to develop these artisanal prints.

Erwin Olaf and his assistant in the studio's darkroom

Available Prints

Each work in the Ladies Hats series is available in three prints and two sizes. A color chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive Paper of 110 x 110 cm, and a silver gelatin print on baryta paper of 37,5 x 37,5 cm, or a color chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive Paper of 37,5 x 37,5 cm. See the index above for all available works in the series. See below images of the frames that belong to the different prints.

 

For more information or inquiries, please contact director Nick Majoor-Arie via nick@ronmandos.nl

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ABOUT Erwin Olaf

Born in 1959 in Hilversum, The Netherlands
Lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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”.

In 2018, Olaf completed a triptych of monumental photographic and filmic tableaux portraying periods of seismic change in major world cities, and the citizens embraced and othered by their urban progress. Like much of his work, it is contextualized by complex race relations, the devastation of economic divisions, and the complications of sexuality. Olaf has maintained an activistic approach to equality throughout his 40-year career after starting out documenting pre-AIDS gay liberation in Amsterdam’s nightlife in the 1980s.

A bold and sometimes controversial approach has earned the artist a number of prestigious collaborations, from Vogue and Louis Vuitton, to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. He served as the official portrait artist for the Dutch royal family in 2017, and designed the national side of the euro coins for King Willem-Alexander in 2013. He has been awarded the Netherlands’ prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award, as well as Photographer of the Year at the International Color Awards, and Kunstbeeld magazine’s Dutch Artist of the Year.

Erwin Olaf has exhibited worldwide, including Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Málaga, Spain; Museu da Imagem e do Som, São Paulo, Brazil; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany; Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA; and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago, Chile. In the spring of 2019, Olaf’s work was the subject of a double exhibition at Kunstmuseum The Hague and The Hague Museum of Photography, as well as a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Center of Photography. Olaf’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, such as the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum, both in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, United States; Art Progressive Collection, United States, and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia. Erwin Olaf will mount a large survey exhibition at Kunsthalle München, Germany, opening in May 2021.

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