Major Retrospective Charts Journey from Photographing the Erotic to the Royal Family

Take a walk through the dark and twisted mind of award-winning photographer Erwin Olaf in his new double exhibition – the largest ever retrospective of his work – in The Hague, Netherlands.


Honoured as one of the Netherlands’ most famous photographers, Olaf leaves little to the imagination. Across both Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography, the exhibition charts everything from his early work photographing naked models, men in bondage and the human body as art to his more recent, sombre affair of exploring his concerns for democracy and freedom of expression, and even photographing the Dutch Royal Family.


The exhibition also puts into focus his new series Palm Springs, in which Olaf shows how the individual is influenced by the environment around them and proceeds from his previous Berlin and Shangai series.

We spoke to the Museum Director Benno Tempel, who explained the approach to the exhibition.

“It was not only because we wanted to make a large exhibition, but also because we wanted to make two exhibitions with different atmospheres.”


“Within The Hague Museum of Photography we see him starting as a photographer; not only with his earliest work, but also with photos by other artists and photographers that were very inspiring for him. So, you get to know the artist as a young man, so to speak.”

“What’s interesting when you walk through these two exhibitions is you also have the feeling of how society changed. So when Erwin started in the 80s it was still analogue, and not only was it analogue but it was also not an image culture. Nowadays, we’re living in a culture of fast-moving images. I think you can also tell that through the development of his work.”


“It has been quite the process of talking and thinking about the exhibition, but also I think for the artist, a process of still working. So during the time that we have been talking about the exhibition, he’s been producing new work.”

“From the early eighties until the mid-nineties I photographed a lot of nudes, and the works are filled with sexuality and aggression. The nude is part of the European history. Take a look at the earliest known images.”
– Erwin Olaf


“They are all about how reality creeps into the paradise we created. And I hope I can give the viewer a thread to entice them into their own fantasy. I’m much more interested in that than in communicating just one message.”
– Erwin Olaf


“I’m proud of the royal family because they are a binding factor in a democracy that is sometimes very divided. I’m happy to be able to contribute to that”.
– Erwin Olaf


“I used to go to the cinema a lot, especially when I was living on my own. I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of montage.”
– Erwin Olaf

The Erwin Olaf exhibition runs across both Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and The Hague Museum of Photography from 16th February 2019 until 12th May 2019.