Erwin Olaf - ‘Hollandse meester' - RIP
by Nina Siegal
AMSTERDAM.- Erwin Olaf, a contemporary Dutch photographer known for the precision of his staged photographs of both countercultural figures and Dutch royalty, died Wednesday in Groningen, Netherlands. He was 64.
Shirley den Hartog, his business partner, said the death, in a hospital, was caused by complications of a recent lung transplant. Olaf had struggled for years with hereditary emphysema, she said.
Olaf began his career as a photojournalist documenting the gay liberation movement in the 1980s before becoming one of the first photographers in the Netherlands to stage photos using theatrical costuming and sets. His subjects were often nonconforming to both gender stereotypes and cultural norms — people with unusual bodies, alternative lifestyles or a penchant for bondage gear.
“He made explicit images or very suggestive images that became iconic,” said Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum, which owns and displays Olaf’s work. The photographs, he added, “showed to a larger public how important it is to let people be who they are, and to let them express themselves.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Olaf’s work evolved over 40 years to embrace high-end studio and fashion photography as well as formal portraiture. The Dutch royal family commissioned him to shoot their portraits several times.
He became recognized internationally as one of the Netherlands’ three most important contemporary photographers — along with Rineke Dijkstra and Anton Corbijn. To the Dutch he was seen as a national treasure.
“We consider him a ‘Hollandse meester,’” a Dutch master, said Mattie Boom, photography curator at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum in Amsterdam. “He was making paintings with the camera.”
Erwin Olaf Springveld was born July 2, 1959, to Simon Jacobus Springveld, a sales manager for an office supplies company, and Lydia van ’t Hoff, a homemaker, in Hilversum, about 20 miles southeast of Amsterdam. He graduated from the School for Journalism in Utrecht, intending to become a documentary photographer.
He moved to Amsterdam when he was 19 and lived in a squat, a building taken over by artists, while volunteering for the Dutch magazine Sek, the official publication of the gay and lesbian activist organization COC Nederland.
He got his first paid job as a photographer in 1984 chronicling Amsterdam nightlife and the gay community with his Nikon 35 mm camera for Vinyl, a new wave music magazine. He jettisoned his last name, Springveld, and went by Erwin Olaf thereafter.
“He started off being a major photographer of the gay scene, but that was too limited for Erwin,” said Wim van Sinderen, his former editor at Vinyl who later became a curator of the Fotomuseum Den Haag, in The Hague, where he exhibited Olaf’s work. “He was hot then, and he continued to be very hot for a long time. He managed to keep up his reputation throughout 40 years.”
Image © Erwin Olaf, “Porträt XI” (2020, From the series Im Wald)