Ever had to pursue something that
you wanted? Well, I have been trying for months,
four months to be exact, to schedule an interview with
the legendary photographer Erwin Olaf. After four
months I have finally got the chance to speak with
Erwin, in particularly wanting to talk about the "New
York Times Couture".
I wanted to know the concept behind
using the designers. "It is always a collaboration with
the Fashion Editor, not much for me of course I could
say. I love that design, but it's not my first
choice, it's always the choice of the Fashion Editor and
what she thinks is important. But, the concept of
the whole story, was when they asked me. I'm not so much
a fashion photographer, so when they asked me,
immediately I had this idea in my head of "all dressed
up and nowhere to go" the thought of, we call it in my
country in the 80's and 70's, more so in the 70's, late
60's, we called it the "green widows" they were saying
something about housewives living in the new suburbs not
allowed to work and the husbands going away in the
morning and arriving at home and women having enough
money and a lot of energy and not allowed to use this
energy. So this was my idea to create this house
that was completely clean and beautifully done and this
woman with beautiful clothes, but the walls are eating
her. That was my first thought to do that. It was
more or less a little bit based on the design of the
interior and the timing on the films in the 60's in
Europe, the French Cinema, so that was the starting
Most of us fashion lovers know Erwin
Olaf for his editorial work. But, he actually has
exhibitions going on year round. Erwin says. "At
the moment it's great. That's why you were trying
for four months and I was not able to schedule this
interview with you, because we were constantly
travelling. In Moscow it was a huge exhibition and
it's still going on. They extended it now because
it was quite a success. It was near the historical
Red Square where nearby, it was a 1500 square only
pictures, pictures, pictures of me, which was amazing
and with a huge amount of people upon the opening, the
same thing happened in Paris, as well. It really
hit me like, with my mouth open, like what is happening
in my life at the moment."
Erwin explains his work and the
great American illustrator. "The funny thing is that the
words that I made the last five to six years in which,
let's say I have a kind of central issue in Ray, Hope,
and Grief from 2004 until 2007, is based on my ideal of
American culture or how it was inspired by Norman
Rockwell photography and also the photography of the
Kennedys in the 60's. And in one way or the other,
it seems to touch a lot of people." Erwin continues:
"Norman Rockwell is a famous American illustrator
painter from the 30's until the late 70's and he was the
main illustrator of the Saturday Evening Post. He
also designed the Coca Cola Christmas man. If you
see it you will know it. It's always very
friendly, very positive kind of image of the United
States in the 40's and the 50's. That was the
starting point for the photography in later years and
also American painter, Edward Water, whom I also adore,
and since I'm working in this direction, it picked up
worldwide, which was very interesting."
Erwin has been asked many times, how
would you describe your style as a photographer?
"I'm a studio photographer, in which I try to
photograph my fantasy and I want to do that in a
technical way, high standard technical way, but
also, create some poetic moods so that the
feeling is like a fairy tale, my own personal fairy
tales. Sometimes with a bit of influence 'that's a
We had to do a quick reschedule,
Erwin celebrated his 50th Birthday. Now did
you just celebrate your 50th Birthday (the night
before)? He laughs. Right. We both
laughed. Now how was that? I know that you
didn't have a hangover, but what happened?
"No, 50 is a terrible figure I
think. You realize that you're more than the half
and you only have one third to go. So I was going
to do a lunch only for family and very intimate friends
and ended up with more than fifty people. It was
really, really fantastic and then yesterday evening I
thought I was going to have dinner with my oldest
friends that I knew when I was seventeen years old when
I left my parents home, but they organized a surprise
party. So now I know for sure that I'm fifty.
I don't know if it's tradition in your country, but in
our country people give you flowers and in Holland the
flowers are not so expensive as in other countries in
the world. So you cannot imagine, but my house is
covered with flowers. The cleaning lady went out
yesterday and came back with another few more bunches
and I was saying, not more flowers please! Oh
my goodness. "So it felt like a belly dancer
after a premier. Yes, so now I'm fifty."
Well happy belated birthday. He laughs and
asks me. So what's your age? Hmm, I
don't think that he knows that women don't like to give
out that information, laughs. I'm 28. Erwin
says: "When you're 29, 29 and a half, you
start to feel depressed, because you're turning 30."
I hope not. I will probably feel depressed if
I don't accomplish all of my goals. "Well you're
not depressed, you're just feeling sad. I don't
hope so for you, but with round figures I feel terrible,
40's, 50's." Yea it is. I just hope
that I probably will feel sad if I haven't accomplished
my goals before 30. Laughs. Erwin continues:
"But you still have a long time to go to accomplish
them before 40. I have to say, to be serious, you
know that in my career and in my private life, I think
that I accomplished all the goals that I even couldn't
dream of. So, I can feel sad because I'm getting a
few more wrinkles and that's about it."
I asked Erwin what inspires him and
what he loves about being a photographer.
"Being in photography; people. The amount of
differences between people, it always makes me curious.
And I'm looking forward to photographing. I'm
really a people's photographer. Also, what people
tell me sometimes makes you think. Inside of that
I'm really inspired by Cinemax from the seventies and
early eighties. The European Cinema."
Erwin continues: "I can design my own fantasy
in a photograph. I think that is fabulous.
The biggest gift that I can get and on the other hand
the camera gives you a lot of opportunity to meet very
interesting people with interesting backgrounds.
When you are photographing you feel sometimes like
you're a hairdresser. You hear a lot, you talk a
lot about things that most people do."
With a renowned photographer like
Erwin I just had to ask him what type of camera he uses.
Erwin response: "A Hasselblad. It's a 6x6
centimeter. It's a very famous brand and it gives
incredible focus. You can count every little hair,
which some people don't like." He laughs.
"It's always beautiful. I've been using it
Erwin gave advice to my EFM
readers for those who are aspiring to be photographers.
"You have to continue and you have to keep on
photographing pure human pictures and don't let yourself
get down because there are technical difficulties you
have to overcome."
As you know it was very hard to snag this interview with
Erwin Olaf because of his busy schedule with on going
exhibitions around the world. He tells me his recent
event. "There is an exhibition in New York now
called Dutch Scene. The Dutch and American society
has been connected for
400 years. I made a special project for them
and it is based on American photography of African
Americans in the 1900's. I did a project that is
very dark and it's based in the section of the1900's and also
the Victorian. A mother and a child."
So did you come up with that concept? -Yes.
Wow. "It's just on the wall there. It's
very interesting. I got it from a female
photographer in the United States, which was incredible
at that time in the 1900's.