Photographs by Erwin Olaf.
112 pp., 65 color illustrations, 1 DVD (NTSC), 10x13".
“Vermeer Noir” might be an apt description of Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf’s disquieting
image repertoire. His subjects are posed indoors, immobile, somewhat in reverie and bathed in
nearby window light—but not tranquilly so. An atmosphere of sinister but clinical indifference
attends both them and their environments, rendering them into beautiful but dislocated
mannequins in catalogue-furnished interiors. All sense of belonging to a place is eliminated.
Each richly colored and sleekly composed image offers a sly reinterpretation of Norman
Rockwell-like iconography and characters, manifesting a nostalgia that both burlesques and
celebrates America of the 1950s and 60s. Dramatic emotions are hinted at but left ambiguous;
certainly nothing in the models’ surroundings suggests a cause. Here, across three themes of
Hope, Grief and Rain, Olaf blends mid-century Modern and Noir in the lens of contemporary
fashion. Avocado greens, golden-hued oranges and subtle lilacs brighten and deaden simultaneously,
sending an irresolvable tension through his scenarios like an electric current. This
tension, strung between the polar effects of zing and muteness, is the line Olaf treads in
his pictures. As a whole, the work defines what critic Jonathan Turner usefully describes as
“Olaf’s recent fascination with the visual representation of such emotions of loss, loneliness
and quiet despair. . . (He) plays games with the idea of cold reality versus cruel artifice, capturing
that precise moment when innocence, hope, and joy are lost.”The book comes with a
DVD of five of Olaf’s films.