Born in Hilversum in the Netherlands in 1959, Erwin Olaf lives and works in Amsterdam since the early 80's. His current studio is situated in a former church hall.

Mixing photojournalism with studio photography, Olaf emerged in the international art scene in 1988 when his series 'Chessmen' was awarded the first prize in the Young European Photographer competition. This award was followed by an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany. Since then Olaf has continued to explore issues of gender, sensuality, humor, despair and grace in each successive series.

Many publications have been made on Olafs' works. Joy (1993) reviewed his early black-and-white photography and was accompanied by a major solo exhibition at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. The 274-page book Silver functioned as the catalogue for his retrospective in 2003 at the Groninger Museum. After other books like Rain/Hope (2006) and Grief (2007), the prestigious Aperture Foundation published the monograph simply named Erwin Olaf, that was presented during the opening of his solo exhibition in The Hague Museum of Photography (Sept -Jan 2008).
Other solo shows have been staged in institutions like the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Frankfurter Kunstverein, the MOCCA in Toronto, Galleria Arte Moderna in Bologna, the Montevideo Institute in Amsterdam, the Sztuki Museum in Lodz, Poland, the Chelsea Art Museum in New York, the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, the George Eastman House in New York, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, the Southeastern Centre For Contemporary Art in North Carolina, the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow and Space E6 in Shenzhen, China.