Erwin Olaf, Provocative, Controversial Photographer
Mutli award-winning Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf has photographed campaigns for the likes of Levi’s, Diesel, Audi, Microsoft and Nokia, to name just an impressive few… but it’s his personal work that is really making creative waves of Tsunami proportions – controversial, provocative and delving beneath the surface with a strong and thought-provoking visual narrative. And he’s received praise from many respected observers, one being Laura Noble of London Independent Photography who said of him; “Erwin Olaf’s work inhabits a twilight world often tempered with an unnerving stillness as his subjects appear frozen in time before the shutter clicks… I implore you to admire the beauty of his aesthetic and suggest that you linger on the elements within each image at leisure.”
Creative Mapping managed to steal the passionate photographer away from his beloved for a while, to talk social issues, signature styles, challenges and his latest work; Berlin.
“My latest series, Berlin, is a multimedia presentation of photography, film and 3D work. The series is about the relationship of the child and the adult, and how that relationship is shifting. It’s unclear who is in charge, and who is directing who. I was inspired by several things for this series, by the city Berlin, but also by this changing relationship between child and adult.” Erwin Olaf
CM: What triggered your passion for photography?
It was not so much a trigger as an evolvement. I started at the school of journalism in Utrecht, the Netherlands. There we also had some photography courses, and as it turned out, I was much more interested in that than being a journalistic writer. Luckily, it was a two way affair.
CM: Your subjects evolve around highly charged social issues , strong emotions, controversial and taboo subjects ‘ Dusk and Dawn” , ‘Grief”, “Paradise Portraits” etc… Why are those subjects of interest to you? And what are you hoping to achieve in your work?
The salt of the earth is much more interesting to me than the average. I am usually interested in issues that touch me, whether it is grief (I was thinking and dealing with sadness and loss at that time), or something that bugs me, like the fascination of our modern society with violence and youth, both issues I tackled with Royal Blood.
When something is on my mind, I try to cope with it within my work, kind to understand it better. Sometimes I just get an image in my head that I want to turn into a photograph or series. With my photography, what I’m trying to achieve is always different, sometimes it’s trying to understand myself better, sometimes I hope viewers will look at a series and think about its subject.
My latest series, Berlin, is a multimedia presentation of photography, film and 3D work. The series is about the relationship of the child and the adult, and how that relationship is shifting. It’s unclear who is in charge, and who is directing who. I was inspired by several things for this series, by the city Berlin, but also by this changing relationship between child and adult. I tried to translate that into my work, but without giving a clear discourse.
CM: From journalism to photographic work: do you use a journalistic approach in your photographic work? Is there always a link?
There’s not really a journalistic approach to my work, unless to take into account that I am very meticulous with my preparations. I always prepare my shoots, discuss everything with the people involved, the models, set designers, stylist etc.
CM: What and whom inspires your creativity?
The human body inspires me, I love skin, everyday life, relationships, dance, the state of society.. it can be anything that moves me, or stirs me. Inspirations are directors from the seventies, like Visconti but also David Bowie, Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton and so on. I love painters like Otto Dix as well.
CM: Does a photographer have a social role to fulfill?
I think that that question should be does an artist have a social role to fulfill.
A good one does. I think, the purpose should be to get people to think about their beliefs, their preconceived notions, about beauty, age etc. Art should question and make you ask questions.
CM: What makes a good photographer?
The ability to put into his work something of himself, and to be able to develop a signature (style).
CM: What advice would you give to a young photographer?
Develop a signature as soon as possible – there are so many photographers, and plenty who are good, so its essential to get noticed.
CM: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge for me is to keep developing myself and to keep educating myself in my field. I think it’s essential to keep growing as a person and an artist, even though it can be easy to just rest and keep repeating the same (successful) trick.
CM: Tell us more about your latest project Berlin What inspired the project? Why did you choose this city?
As I mentioned before, I was very much inspired by the city Berlin, I’ve been there many times and it has an energy that’s very infectious. Also the city has an amazing history and so many incredible historic buildings. I’ve also always been fascinated by the period between the two World Wars, the Interbellum – it seems like such a lawless time, a free time. Combining that with the relationship between child and adult that fascinates me, I came up with ‘Berlin’
CM: Why was this project important to you?
It was for me the first time I made a complete installation with different parts, the Keyhole and the Berlin make use of different media that tell the story. I was super happy with the outcome, even though it has been a long ride.
Creative Mapping © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Photography © Copyright: Erwin Olaf – Courtesy Hamiltons Gallery, London