Review: Erwin Olaf, ‘Royal Blood’

Erwin Olaf, 'Jacky O'

Erwin Olaf is an image maker. Expert in post production techniques, borrowing heavily from cinema and schooled in photojournalism, Olaf’s hybrid of high end commercial photography and baroque sensibilities attracts clients of the likes of Microsoft, Nokia, Levi’s, BMW and Vanity Fair. Notorious for darkly humorous and off beat imagery, Olaf has recently expanded his art practice to include film making.

Olaf’s ‘Royal Blood’ series is a mostly monochromatic, exquisitely executed procession of images. Depicting the deaths of aristocrats, Olaf’s ultra perfect subjects model their wounds like haute couture. Generating mixed reviews overall, the inclusion of a Princess Di image caused considerable controversy.

Can art made in this style do more than pay lip service to social complexities like violence and murder? As resplendently beautiful as the images are, Olaf relies on advertising style shock value and a certain ambiguity of purpose while seeking high art credibility.

In defense Olaf explains that violence is a deeply entrenched aspect of popular culture, and his aim is not to shock but to provoke discourse. While this may be true, it is unclear exactly what that intended discourse is. Despite the brutality of the imagery, the Royal Blood series; like all of Olaf’s work, does allude to an underlying yet also ambiguous narrative. Royal Blood is a meditation on manufactured perfection and Olaf is clearly a master craftsman. The language of high fashion however seems too thin to stretch to commentary on the deeper issues of the human condition.

Erwin Olaf, 'Lady Di'

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