Erwin Olaf - Waiting


Waiting is in fact one of the most important moments in life. We wait for the birth of a child, we wait for our death, we wait for a lover, for happiness, we wait for grief to pass. It’s a metaphor for a concentration on the intensity of life. We have forgotten what it is to wait while what we should learn is in fact to experience this time. Waiting gives us the ability to reflect, to consider and to do nothing.

Over the years a lot has been said and written about the work of famous Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf. I find the artist's biography of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery to be one of the finest analysis of his work.

Olaf’s impeccably orchestrated sets achieve a level of aesthetic consistency precisely because he builds them all from floor to ceiling, creating perfect stages on which to enact moments of awkwardness, shame, or humiliation, grievous emotions and impulses we might all wish to repress. To that end, his images appear both candid and supremely self-conscious, natural and posed at once; and though they have the clarity and naturalism achieved only by photography, in composition, tone, and gesture they have the mood of a painting.

Silence pervades his images like a soft afternoon light, and his subjects never relate to one another, captured instead during quiet, private moments - but their gestures and postures speak volumes. His subjects are always pictures of perfection, their hair coiffed just so, makeup applied impeccably. They wear figure-constricting dresses and nicely tailored suits, and they have perfect homes to match. But in the static stillness and sterility of their environments, volcanoes of repressed emotion -desire, grief, regret- seem poised to erupt. Rather than confronting viewers, their gazes are often downcast or averted, heightening the dramatic power. They turn away from the camera or stare listlessly at the wall, conveying the raw experiences that overwhelm us all in the moments when no one is looking.

Photos © Erwin Olaf