AUDIO: RIP Erwin Olaf 1959-2023

We are sad to hear of the passing of Erwin Olaf. In 2019 he kindly contributed to our weekly A Photographic Life podcast by explaining what photography meant to him. Here we post his contribution.

Dutch born Erwin Olaf tudied journalism at the School of Journalism in Utrecht and emerged onto the international art scene with his series Chessmen, that won the Young European Photographer of the Year award in 1988. This was followed by an exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, with subsequent solo and group shows at major museums and galleries worldwide, but Olaf started his career as a photojournalist documenting the nightlife of the 1980s. In recent years he has developed his themes through the form of monumental tableaux, for which he adopts the role of director as well as photographer. His approach to his work has earned a number of commissions from institutions, including the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. He was awarded in 2006 the Photographer of the Year in the International Color Awards as well as the Netherlands’ prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award in 2011. Additional international awards include a Silver Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival and a Lucie Award for achievement in advertising, both in 2008. Olaf has screened video work at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum at FIT, New York; and Nuit Blanche Toronto, with a live score commissioned for his series Waiting. He has also projected his thirty-channel video installation L’Éveil onto the Hôtel de Ville for Nuit Blanche in Paris. In 2018, the Rijksmuseum acquired five hundred key artworks from Olaf’s forty-year oeuvre for their collection. He was an advocate for gay rights and in 2012 he organised a ‘kiss in’ that included approximately a hundred participants after a snack bar owner had commented on Olaf kissing his boyfriend. Olaf died on 20 September 2023, at the age of 64, as a result of long-term emphysema weeks after receiving a lung transplant. Olaf was first diagnosed with emphysema in 1996. He had predicted what the illness would do to him in the third panel of his 2009 self-portrait series I wish, I am, I will be.

© Grant Scott 2023


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