‘What would Erwin do?’

A personal goodbye to Photography Artist Erwin Olaf.

American Dream / Self portrait with Alex / Palm Springs. Erwin’s way of saluting the new generation.

Star Struck.

The very first night I moved to Amsterdam as a Danger Twink, I recognised Erwin from TV. We were standing around the fire pit of Mr Nieges at a private event, close to Central Station. I remember clearly being star struck. An instant body freeze. A mind in overdrive. ‘Act normal Stefan’.

He was the embodiment of my Photographers Wet Dream: internationally acclaimed, mysterious, locally respected. I stared at him from the corner of my eye.

Clearly I felt like a weirdo, too shy to connect. ‘When would my brand new Amsterdam life be successful?’ I asked myself later that night thinking about my encounter with the Dutch Master. The next time I would have to make a decision I promised myself to ask myself: ‘What would Erwin do?’ The bar was set. The game was on.


In the years that ensued I bumped into him at more functions and events. I warmed up and we often had great conversations. For example, we discussed his love hate relationship with the title ‘New Dutch Master’. The international press had given him the title at the time of his work for a Milano Fashion House.

We chuckled about how our heritage is a ghost that will never stop haunting us, trying to box us in, setting limits for ourselves we did not vote for. We might as well make it work for us.

There it was, the big grin. The unmistakable chuckle.

Cc Shirley

Fast forward: my first solo exhibition: HORSEMEN at the Park Hotel Gallery. I reached out to him and asked if he would want to open it. He enthusiastically replied ‘Your collection looks incredibly powerful. It would be a great honour to open it. Unfortunately I am Asia that week. Also, next time let me know more than 2 weeks in advance, because I’d love to say yes. And don’t forget to cc Shirley’. Last minute production: my biggest blessing and greatest Achilles heel.

The HORSEMEN Opening Night at the Park Hotel Gallery.

On stage together.

Half a year later both our artworks were being auctioned on the same stage of the AIDS gala fundraiser Amsterdam Diner. I will never forget how our names were mentioned in one breath. Erwin Olaf and Stefan Gerard. I felt humbled and honoured. A little proud. And goddamn thankful for the opportunity.

The Artist is present.

Erwin, by being himself, helped me to come out as an ‘Artist’. In my brand book I have a section on my personal role models and their accomplishments. When I got to Erwin, I had to change the font size because his accomplishments would not fit on the page. He inspired me to think big, international and he showed me the importance of working with a great team. For example, his gallerist and long time friend Ron Mandos pushing him forward at every occasion.

Erwin is the reason I moved away from the title ‘Photographer’ as it had become stale to me. I started to call myself ‘Photography Artist’, shitting my pants with imposter syndrome. But I did it anyway.

Because after all: ‘What would Erwin do?’

Erwin Olaf next to Caravaggio in the Role Model Section of my 2022 Brand Book.


Dear Erwin, I thought about you last night when I saw you left us. I thought about how I will miss your naughty chuckle, your playful energy and your mysterious appearance. You helped all Photography Artists in the world to take themselves more seriously. You put Photography on the map as a serious art form. You are leaving behind an incredible rich and personal legacy.

The world will remember your name. And I will too. Thank you for making the world a more interesting place.

Rest in peace,