Erwin Olaf, photographer and LGBTQ icon, 1959–2023

Erwin Olaf. Photo: Sebastiaan ter Burg. Wikimedia Creative Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf has passed away at the age of 64. An announcement on his Instagram account was published on Wednesday.

Born in Hilversum, Olaf studied journalism at Utrecht’s School of Journalism. His practice, spanning more than four decades, has focused on marginalised subcultures and social taboos. In one of his earliest series in the 1980s, he documented Amsterdam’s bustling queer culture, a project that then widely circulated into queer and later mainstream publications. In his later works, he continued to explore various forms of fantasies and desires through the human bodies often mysteriously staged in domestic interiors. Deliberately composed and glossily finished, Olaf’s works received recognition beyond artistic circles, and he produced a variety of advertising campaigns for brands from Bottega Veneta and Diesel to Microsoft and Nokia. 

‘Erwin Olaf saw beauty in every person,’ said Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum, where a large number of his works are held. ‘He was a key figure in history for his activism and role in the LGBTQIA+ community, and a photographer who defined his medium in the Netherlands. An artist of tremendous drive, his attention to detail was unparalleled.’

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