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How Erwin Olaf Photographed Young Adults in Shanghai

  • Shanghai Du Mansion The Parting, 2017
  • Shanghai 1933 The letter, 2017 - 2018
  • Shanghai Huai Hai 116 Self Portrait, 2017 - 2018
April 6, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The medium of photography has been endangered much by the change of perception brought by easy to handle and accessible smartphone cameras. That is a commonplace, but still, if speak about the images in terms of their artistic potential the discussion should move elsewhere. The following question is: what makes someone’s photographic work unique except the possible fame, talent or the use of high profile equipment? Is it the concept, the wit or just plain artistry?

With the photography of Erwin Olaf, everything comes at stake. His three-decades-long and internationally recognized practice has been represented in a number of publications, from commercial magazines to art history books.

His latest series Shanghai 2017 captures the lives of people in this metropolis in a distinct and an unprecedented manner and will be shown at Magda Danysz Gallery‘s Shanghai franchise.

Left Shanghai 1933 Portrait 02, 2017 - 2018 Right Shanghai Dumansion Portrait 01, 2017 - 2018
Left: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai 1933 Portrait 02 ( large), 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm / Right: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai Dumansion Portrait 01, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm

The Special Optics of Erwin Olaf

Erwin Olaf emerged on the photographic scene in the late 80s. His groundbreaking works at the time definitely marked a new era for artists eager to deal explicitly with the topics of sex, race, and class. The narratives he has created and still creates possess strong cinematic associations and they are suffocated with a number of different motifs and atmospheres.

Throughout the years, Olaf has established himself as a distinct author whose specific aesthetic order does not reflect only in a desire to be different, yet it is more a matter of his political and social awareness that makes his works so witty and sharp.

Left Shanghai 1933 Portrait 03, 2017 - 2018 Right Shanghai 1933 Portrait 01, 2017 - 2018
Left: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai 1933 Portrait 03, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm / Right: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai 1933 Portrait 01, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm

The Story of Young Adults

With this particular series, Erwin Olaf tries to articulate the feeling of alienation, loneliness, and estrangement omnipresent with the generation of young people who are on the verge of their adult lives. The represented figures seem to be distanced and reserved not only for the camera but for any possible interaction.

This behavior is not just a manifestation on one’s free will; moreover, it is an effect of complex social and cultural codex on one side, and on the other of the increasing change of the cityscape caused by a growing capital.

The dystopian visions Olaf produces are additionally strange due to the use of specific, almost vintage imagery which intensifies the feeling of both drama and disorientation so typical for the contemporary moment.

Left Shanghai Fu1088 Portrait 03, 2017 - 2018 Right Shanghai Huai Hai 116 Portrait 02, 2017 - 2018
Left: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai Fu1088 Portrait 03, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm / Right: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai Huai Hai 116 Portrait 02, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 120 x 90 cm

Erwin Olaf at the Magda Danysz

This outstanding photographic exhibition will be opening on April 7 and will last until June 7, 2018 at Magda Danysz Gallery in Shanghai.

Interestingly so, this particular exhibition is the second part of a three chapter’s project primarily devoted to various stages of the human growth process and each of them takes place in a different city.

The public will have a unique chance to dive in the distant worlds of Erwin Olaf or rather to encounter how art can be a perfect mirror of the micro-narratives often hidden on the other side of social cannons.

Featured images: Erwin Olaf – Shanghai Du Mansion The Parting 2017, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 187 x 120 cm; Shanghai 1933 The letter, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 187 x 120 cm; Shanghai Huai Hai 116 Self Portrait, 2017 – 2018. Photograph, 60 x 90 cm. All images courtesy the artist and Magda Danysz Shanghai gallery.