Erwin Olaf, Dutch photographer whose diverse practice centers around society’s marginalized individuals, including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community.

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Erwin Olaf on ‘Blacks’


“The Blacks series [1990] was mostly inspired by one text on Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album (1989).

In one interlude she says: ‘In complete darkness, we are all the same It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us. Don’t let your eyes deceive you’. A few years earlier, I had been hitchhiking to Paris and the South of France with a good friend of Indonesian background. They would let me into clubs without a problem but they didn’t want to let him in.

It was the first time I became aware that the amount of pigment in your skin can have real consequences. As a young photographer I wanted to incorporate this painful event into my photography, but I didn’t know how. So, when I heard Janet Jackson speaking her lines I thought, ‘That’s my theme. I have to create an imaginary group of people that are all equal.’

By using a number of stereotypes and sometimes even negative symbols in Blacks and collaborating with models from very diverse backgrounds, I wanted to engage in a dialogue with the viewer and hopefully encourage them to reflect on the so often hidden inequality in our society and its adverse effects.

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