Renowned Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, whose diverse work covered subjects such as gay nightlife in Amsterdam to portraits of the Dutch royal family, has died.
Olaf passed away unexpectedly at the age of 64 on Wednesday morning, a few weeks after undergoing a lung transplant for long-term emphysema.
Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum:
Erwin Olaf saw beauty in every person. 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… pic.twitter.com/noWGHtGtk1
— Rijksmuseum (@rijksmuseum) September 20, 2023
“The recovery seemed to be going very well,” his family say in a statement on Instagram.
“He suddenly became unwell on Wednesday morning and CPR was to no avail. We’re going to miss him terribly.”
Olaf was known for his daring, thought-provoking, and diverse photographs. In a profile in Time in 2013, Olaf’s work was described as straddling “the worlds of commercial, art and fashion photography at once.”
His highly stylized photographs featured lighting influenced by Dutch master painters Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer.
Olaf started his career in advertising, once shooting nuns in jeans for a campaign for a clothing company. Olaf worked commercially producing photographs for brands like Diesel — while also showing his acclaimed work in galleries around the world.
According to AP, Olaf shot portraits of King Willem-Alexander and his family during his career. In 2013, the photographer designed the Dutch side of a new euro coin bearing an image of the king when Willem-Alexander acceded to the throne.
In 2018, the Rijksmuseum, the national museum in Amsterdam, selected some 500 photographs from across his career for its permanent collection. In an exhibition that same year, Rijksmuseum presented 10 of his photographs in conversation with 10 Golden Age master paintings by artists such as Rembrandt and Gerard ter Borch.
In March, Olaf was awarded with the Dutch Royal House’s Medal of Honor for Art and Science. It honored him for “using a daring approach to portraiture to address themes such as ethnicity, sexual diversity, and economic inequality.”
In a joint statement following the news of Olaf’s death, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima say that the Netherlands “lost a unique, exceptionally talented photographer and a great artist… His work lives on and continues to be intriguing and moving.”
Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum, also paid tribute to Olaf in a statement. Dibbits says that “Erwin Olaf saw beauty in every person” and his work was of “historical importance.”
Image credits: Header photo via Wikimedia Commons.