Over the past decades, Olaf has gained worldwide recognition for his highly stylized and meticulously choreographed photographs. His distinctive aesthetic invites us to enter a world in which subjects are beautifully lit, their clothing impeccably tailored, and the built stages perfectly organized. Yet, beneath this elegant façade lies a hidden reality of silent grief, solitude, and fear of losing one’s hard-won rights. In the three series of photographic work presented in this online viewing room, we see Olaf’s expressions of issues like Covid-19, the downfall of the first world, climate change and personal loss. Olaf’s irrepressible need to respond to issues both close to home and further afield results in highly original work, delivers biting critique and shapes public debate.

Erwin Olaf has exhibited worldwide, including in Brazil, Chile, China, Spain, the UK, and the USA. Last year, Kunstmuseum The Hague and the neighboring Photography Museum presented an extensive retrospective of his work, followed by an exhibition at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that included works acquired from Olaf in 2018. Olaf’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, such as Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, United States; Art Progressive Collection, United States, and the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

April Fool 2020

 

This year, the celebrated artist created April Fool 2020, a series of work that gives shape to the emotions and images that paralyzed the artist after waking up in the surreal situation of the current pandemic. The first reports about a lockdown in The Netherlands came to Olaf as a shock. The year before he had celebrated his sixtieth birthday and held successful exhibitions in The Hague, Amsterdam, New York and Shanghai, a new monograph had been published. Moreover, he had just returned from a holiday in Thailand with his husband. Completely relaxed and happy, he suddenly arrived in a world of chaos and uncertainty.

April Fool 2020, 9.30am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

April Fool 2020, 9.45am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

The gravity of the situation dawned on him on his first visit to the supermarket. The supermarket shelves, emptied by hoarders, made him realize that for decades he had assumed that everything would always be there. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vacantly he walked around, waiting for the utter unknown, afraid of an enemy that we cannot see. Stepping into his studio the next morning, Olaf was scared and completely paralyzed, having no idea where the pandemic would take us.

April Fool 2020, 10.00am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

April Fool 2020, 10.05am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

“For April Fool, I had to express my personal feelings, to fight and release my personal demons. I was very worried about the current pandemic. I’ve never experienced the feelings I had mid-March 2020. And you can see it on my face in these pictures. It’s that pointed hat, which represents the fear. Not my fear, but the fear. This idea of a clown with pointed hat and a white face was a translation of this feeling I’d never had or seen before. It’s a very associative image of my feelings.”

Erwin Olaf

April Fool 2020, 11.00am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 80 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

April Fool 2020, 11.15am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 80 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

This idea of a clown with pointed hat and a white face was not entirely new to Olaf. The white makeup and the pointed hat were from a very obscure, old picture he found on the internet a long time ago. For an earlier project he was looking for images of clown makeup, so he found a black and white picture of a man at a birthday party. Lines marking the old man’s face. The photo was really out of focus, a very strange image. Olaf had never seen anything like it before and in similar manner wanted to portray himself in a way he had never seen himself before. Olaf said, “I wanted to portray an old man that leaves his house and feels this discomfort, this huge weight on his shoulders.”

 

April Fool 2020, 11.05am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 100 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

April Fool 2020, 11.30am, 2020 | Silver gelatine print on Ilford Multigrade FB glossy baryta paper | 46,5 x 35 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

April Fool 2020 was finished in an unusual short time period. On Wednesday the 12th of March Olaf decided to produce this new series of work. The next day he stumbled upon a big Asian marketplace in Amsterdam and looked for locations around this market. On Friday morning he started shooting. Everybody was there with facemasks, gloves and disinfectant, and at an appropriate distance from one other. Without any permits he started shooting on the parking deck and then went on to the Asian market in the evening. Never had Olaf been this fast.

April Fool 2020, 10.15am, 2020 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Palm Springs

 

In Palm Springs (2018), Olaf focuses on the downfall of the first world and discusses many other topical issues. One of the key themes is climate change, though at the same time the images also recall the United States of the 1960s. In a beautiful series of portraits, landscapes – this was the first time Olaf had photographed landscapes – still lifes and filmic scenes he refers to issues like teenage pregnancy, discrimination, religious abuses and polarization. The series tells the story of people withdrawing into gated communities as reality invades their paradise.

The Kite, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 177,8 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

“A new direction appeared in my work, thanks to the different technique you need outside the studio. We had made an extensive study of old examples of light from the fifties and sixties, when much use was made on location of camera-mounted flash. Where previously we had sought the limitations of the studio, the combination of the interior and exterior world added something extra. We occasionally were given a piece of the story as a gift.”

Erwin Olaf

One of the starting points was an ‘interracial’ casting, according to his maxim that we automatically get all the colors of the rainbow if we all continue to make love to each other. “I wanted to show that there are so many beautiful skin colors these days. But once you start photographing, you notice that you irrevocably end up in a racial discussion.”

The Kite, Double Portrait, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 119 x 89,4 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

American Dream, Portrait of Alex, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 133 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Once the cast meets each other on location, such projects begin to live a life of their own, says Erwin Olaf. “For example the pose this boy takes. It refers to classical sculpture, but also to Colin Kaepernick’s protest pose during the playing of the American national anthem.”

And those two boys in that villa from the fifties one in swimming trunks and the other in army clothing from the time of the Korean war, could never have changed places, Olaf noticed while photographing. “When I made the sketches, I thought: I’ll see who wears what later. But at the time a colored boy would probably not be credible as a resident of that spacious villa complex. The son living in the house was undoubtedly white and the dark boy was about to die in Korea in the fight against the communist threat. Fictional gossip’ everyone has to have an opinion.”

The Farewell, Double Portrait, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 177,8 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

American Dream, Self-Portrait with Alex II, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 178 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

For American Dream, Self-Portrait with Alex II, Olaf came from behind the camera for a variant of David Hockey’s 1972 Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) – coincidentally auctioned shortly after Palm Springs session for the record amount of $90 million. “In that self-portrait of the photographer, I want to show the unattainability of beauty, the longing for what you no longer are. You can put on your party clothes, but you are still an old man of sixty with your walled garden of paradise.”

On closer inspection, however, that paradise is also disappointing; where the background of David Hockney is lush green, with Erwin Olaf you see yellowed grass and a bare mountain. “The production team suggested spraying that grass green. It’s nice that people want to do something like that for you, but that wasn’t at all what I wanted. The withered grass gives this fabricated, artificial world of Palm Springs something beautifully poignant.”

The Bank, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 177,8 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Over the years, Olaf developed his curious and brilliant trick of making pictures in which the stillness is not merely the immediacy of a shutter timed in hundredths of a second, but the deep quiet of the reflective pause. We can see this in those long, agonizing held breaths of the frozen pose and the unmoving air inside hushed rooms. Years ago Olaf had learned that to resist the terrible throwaway immediacy of photography, he had to slow us down when looking at his pictures. And we can only do that when they offer rich echoes of the things we’ve seen and read.

 

The Bank, The Successor, 2018 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 100 x 100 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Hope & Grief

 

Erwin Olaf’s series Hope (2005) explores the relationship between dream and reality. The protagonists are caught in a second of introspection, drowning silently in the depth of their thoughts. The era of the American dream promised them ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, but the latter was never fully captured.

Hope, The Practice, 2005 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 70 x 99,3 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Human fragility is a theme prevalent in much of Olaf’s work; the artist says, “It’s nice to lock people in a very formal world in which everything is nearly perfect – and then to break something. Then you have your drama.” This ruptured perfection suffuses the Hope series and also permeates his project Grief (2007)

Hope, Portrait #8, 2005 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 70 x 70 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

Hope, Portrait #4, 2005 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 70 x 70 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

“The older I get, the more I start to realize that we are all born on our own and that we will all disappear alone; this may be reflected in series like Hope and Grief. Of course I get more serious or melancholic the older I get; such is life. Although I still like to party sometimes or do things that God has forbidden, I increasingly like a more introspective life.”

Erwin Olaf, 2009

Grief, Irene, 2007 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 106,7 cm (framed)

Erwin Olaf

Available

After his previous series Hope (2005) and Rain (2004), the 15 portraits that make up Grief provide a final chapter to Olaf’s fascination with the visual representation of such emotions as loss, loneliness and quiet despair. In these photographs, Olaf plays games with the idea of cold reality versus cruel artifice, capturing that precise moment when innocence, hope and joy are lost.

Grief, Grace Portrait, 2007 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 80 x 60 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

In Grief, solitary figures brood in tearful silence. Loosely based on the style of American aristocracy in the early 1960s, and more precisely, on the torment of Jacqueline Kennedy immediately after the assassination of her husband, these images blend historical detail with staged emotions.

Grief, Grace, 2007 | Chromogenic print on Fuji Chrystal Archive paper | 60 x 106,7 cm

Erwin Olaf

Available

“Grief is a series about the choreography of emotion, and what you can create in the studio. So I wanted to ask the question: how does grief really look? What is the aesthetic of grieving? In my portrait of Grace, even though you don’t see her face, the way she is standing with her head tilted, how she looks out the window, the way the handkerchief is crumpled in her hand, tells a story. It’s the same as when you watch a movie. You might start to cry, even though what you see is fake.”

Erwin Olaf

 

 

For more information regarding the available artworks or any other questions, please contact gallery director Nick Majoor-Arie at nick@ronmandos.nl.