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 point."

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 joke'."

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 since 1981.

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.

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