Erwin Olaf, Photographer With an Eye for the Theatrical, Dies at 64

Erwin Olaf, a modern Dutch photographer acknowledged for the precision of his staged photos of the two countercultural figures and Dutch royalty, died on Wednesday in Groningen, the Netherlands. He was 64.

Shirley den Hartog, his enterprise companion, mentioned the dying, in a healthcare facility, was caused by problems of a modern lung transplant. Mr. Olaf had struggled for a long time with hereditary emphysema, she explained.

Mr. Olaf began his job as a photojournalist documenting the homosexual liberation motion in the 1980s before becoming a person of the 1st photographers in the Netherlands to stage shots utilizing theatrical costuming and sets. His topics have been typically nonconforming to equally gender stereotypes and cultural norms — individuals with uncommon bodies, alternative lifestyles or a penchant for bondage gear.

“He designed explicit images or extremely suggestive illustrations or photos that grew to become iconic,” said Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum, which owns and displays Mr. Olaf’s work. The images, he additional, “showed to a larger public how significant it is to allow men and women be who they are, and to enable them specific them selves.”

Mr. Olaf’s perform evolved in excess of 40 many years to embrace high-finish studio and style photography as properly as formal portraiture. The Dutch royal family members commissioned him to shoot their portraits many situations.

He grew to become recognized internationally as a person of the Netherlands’ three most vital modern photographers — together with Rineke Dijkstra and Anton Corbijn. To the Dutch he was witnessed as a nationwide treasure.

“We think about him a ‘Hollandse meester,’” a Dutch learn, claimed Mattie Increase, images curator at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum in Amsterdam. “He was creating paintings with the camera.”

Erwin Olaf Springveld was born on July 2, 1959, to Simon Jacobus Springveld, a income supervisor for an business supplies company, and Lydia van ’t Hoff, a homemaker, in Hilversum, about 20 miles west of Amsterdam. He graduated from the Faculty for Journalism in Utrecht, intending to become a documentary photographer.

He moved to Amsterdam when he was 19 and lived in a squat, a constructing taken about by artists, even though volunteering for the Dutch journal Sek, the formal publication of the homosexual and lesbian activist group COC Nederland.

He got his first paid task as a photographer in 1984 chronicling Amsterdam nightlife and the homosexual group with his Nikon 35-millimeter digicam for Vinyl, a new wave audio magazine. He jettisoned his last name, Springveld, and went by Erwin Olaf thereafter.

“He started off off being a major photographer of the gay scene, but that was also constrained for Erwin,” said Wim van Sinderen, his former editor at Vinyl who later on grew to become a curator of the Fotomuseum Den Haag, in The Hague, exactly where he exhibited Mr. Olaf’s do the job. “He was incredibly hot then, and he continued to be quite sizzling for a long time. He managed to keep up his popularity throughout 40 decades.”

In 1983, Sek journal assigned Mr. Olaf to shoot portraits of Hans van Manen, a leading Dutch choreographer who was also a photographer. The two males designed a shut friendship that would very last for a long time.

Mr. van Manen broadened Mr. Olaf’s artistic horizons, introducing him to artists this kind of as the designer Benno Premsela and the art photographer Paul Blanca. “In individuals years, our partnership was like a master and a pupil,” Mr. Olaf claimed of Mr. van Manen in a 2021 interview for a ebook of dance photographs the two produced collectively, “Dance in Close-Up.”

The most essential impact on Mr. Olaf’s work was Robert Mapplethorpe, the paragon of studio photography, whom Mr. Olaf satisfied even though Mr. Mapplethorpe was visiting Amsterdam. He was in particular taken with Mr. Mapplethorpe’s use of sq. structure photos, a procedure also utilized by Peter Hujar and Diane Arbus for their portrait function.

Mr. Olaf quickly bought a secondhand Hasselblad digital camera that, as Mr. van Manen reported, made these “nice 6-by-6 neat format photos, with no grittiness, incredibly clear and really insightful.”

Other influences provided the uncooked New York road photography of Weegee and the staged grotesque tableaus of Joel-Peter Witkin.

Not lengthy afterward, Mr. Olaf found a tiny studio in another artwork squat, hung up a curtain and started to shoot his 1st staged photographs, making use of individuals in his rapid circle, this kind of as disco queens and punks. He favored gender-bending costumes reflecting the queer, S&M and drag lifestyle of his period. The Hasselblad gave a “classical contact to his quite nonclassical imagery,” Mr. van Sinderen mentioned.

“We phone it visible activism,” Ms. den Hartog explained. “Erwin normally experimented with to specific his anger and his criticisms of modern society via his perform.”

Ms. Growth, of the Rijksmuseum, claimed that staged photography was atypical of the era, in particular in the Netherlands, the place documentary images was in vogue.

Mr. Olaf attained global consideration for the initial time in 1988, when he gained the Young European Photographer of the Year award for his series “Chessmen,” black-and-white visuals of people transformed into baroque chess items. An exhibition for “Chessmen” followed at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, his 1st key solo exhibition.

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Olaf switched to electronic pictures, generating a selection of photographic collection. Through that time he also founded a career as a commercial photographer, generating ads for style makes like Diesel and Bottega Veneta and the corporations Heineken and Nokia.

Mr. Olaf’s most important do the job was often portraiture, even if his subjects have been positioned in elaborate sets and donning fantastical costumes. The Dutch creator Arthur Japin, whom Mr. Olaf photographed as a lion, mentioned sitting down for him could experience liberating.

“When you had been with him you were mindful that he observed totally every thing about you, but that he did not decide,” Mr. Japin stated. “That’s why individuals opened up to him. Some people today would definitely go considerably when they ended up photographed by him.”

Mr. van Sinderen reported that in the early 2000s Mr. Olaf’s noncommercial pictures took on “a variety of uber-kitch created doable by Photoshop,” but that he altered course after an American museum curator criticized his perform as “Eurotrash.”

He commenced to examine the works of Norman Rockwell and modern painters, in particular Lucien Freud, as nicely as the cinematic realism of the Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, whom he admired for the “incredible sadness” of his movies, Ms. den Hartog stated.

Ultimately, Mr. Olaf became recognized for a sort of beautiful stillness and perfectionist polish, characteristics that ended up highlighted in a double exhibition in The Hague on the event of his 60th birthday in 2019.

That same calendar year, the Rijksmuseum exhibited a dozen of his functions in dialogue with an equal amount of Golden Age learn paintings by Rembrandt, Gerard ter Borch and some others. They have been picked from extra than 500 photos of Mr. Olaf’s that the Rijksmuseum acquired the prior yr.

In excess of the many years Mr. Olaf built pals from a broad array of social circles, including that of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who in a statement stated they mourned the decline of a “quirky, extremely gifted photographer and a fantastic artist.”

Mr. Olaf is survived by his partner, Kevin Edwards, whom he married in 2016, and his two brothers, Jos and Ron Springveld.

Mr. Olaf was hopeful that his lung transplant last month would add a long time to his lifestyle, reported Ms. Boom. “We talked pretty not too long ago, in the course of the summer, and he was whole of designs,” she stated. “After the procedure, he considered he would keep on for a further 10 a long time, and he had loads of tips.”