Erwin Olaf, The Siege and Relief of Leiden, 2011

Because it’s been a week I am in quarantine at home due to an unexpected chicken pox, and I start to feel better only now, I wanted to share today, the photographic series of Erwin Olaf, The Siege and Relief of Leiden, 2011.

Commissioned by Leiden University and the municipal Museum De Lakenhal in Netherlands, it commemorates one of biggest victory in the 80 years’ war (1568 to 1648) of the Dutch revolts fighting their independence towards the Catholic kingdom of Spain

In order to fully appreciate the pictures, it is crucial to understand the historical context of what the artist tried to represent:

From many centuries, this part of Europe was controlled by the Hasburg family, and thus became part of the Spanish crown, under the reign of Habsburg Charles V, king of Spain.
Spain was during the 16th C., the greatest power in Europe (if not in the world), but this didn’t stop many Dutch provinces to revolt more and more. As a consequence, when King Philip II succeeded to Charles V, he sent the Duke of Alva to govern there and fight these rebellious cities.

Leiden was then loyal to the Spanish crown, but when the Duke started to implement laws challenging the freedom of religion (Dutch are largely protestant and the Spanish catholic) the city quickly followed the rebellion guided by William of Orange (Willem van Oranje).

In response, the Duke, who already been defeated in Alkmaar and Haarlem, sent the general Francisco de Valdés to force Leiden to surrender. We are in 1573.

The Spanish troops were weaken by the loss of the precedent defeats, and instead of taking the city by force, they decided then to siege the town forcing the population to capitulate by starving them.

It took several months, before the first signs of famine appear, but then, quickly so the dysentery and the plague.

The city of Leiden lost half of its population in less than a year (more than 6000 people died of the plague itself!), and even if many were ready to surrender, the population could communicate via carrier pigeons with William of Orange, who urged them to hold on.

In October 1574, William of Orange and the Rebel troops (formed by Dutchmen, but also English, Scottish and Huguenot French) finally succeed to free them using the geography of this low-lying land, cutting the dikes, but especially helped by the weather, forcing the Spaniards to run away, panicked by the rising waters.

This is an amazing and epic piece of European history (and I haven’t been into the details!) but I find it very surprising that no movie (as far as I know) has been made about it!!!??

Anyway! Knowing now the whole story, we can better appreciate the visual works of Erwin Olaf.

Using mainly Leiden born model, the photograph created seven pictures: one monumental historical piece focusing on the siege itself, 4 portraits of some protagonists and two still life, all beautiful made at the manner of a Dutch painting of the 16-17thC.

The historical piece is one of its kind in photography.
Very large (over 2 x 3 metres), it is gruesome, narrative, and we are simply absorbed by the story that is happening in front of us: the starvation and plague at first sight, where dead bodies are everywhere, children eating a dead dog, soldiers far in the background and where the only hope comes from the white pigeon in the middle of the composition.

The monumental piece is now at the Museum De Lakenhal while the portraits and still lifes are at the Leiden University collections.
You may see the whole series (with zooming details!) on the artist website here.

Erin Olaf, Liberty, Plague and Hunger during the siege of Leiden, 2011

Erwin Olaf, Liberty, Plague and Hunger during the siege of Leiden, 2011

Erwin Olaf, Magdalena Moons, 2011

Erwin Olaf, Magdalena Moons, 2011

Erwin Olaf, Plague Doctor, 2011

Erwin Olaf, Plague Doctor, 2011


Erwin Olaf, Still Life (Beggars’ attributes), 2011


Ola Kolehmainen, the photographer who sublimes the architecture

“I do not photograph architecture. I use it as raw material.”  Ola Kolehmainen

Reading this statement, we better understand the logic of his art : the Finnish photographer focus, not on how the building fit the surroundings or its proportions, but on its ordinary elements composing the structure, the geometry and repetitive patterns. He creates then a sort of abstract picture thanks to a clever framing and colours.

His last series made during his residency in Istanbul, captures differently the beauty of it.
Choosing mainly old religious buildings, he changed the method and breaks the pictures in different large frame to better enlighten its volume.

Either way, this is visually stunning…

Source and images Copyrights : Galeria SENDA, Gallery Taik Persons, Artsy

How to travel with Bonnie Edelman’s Scapes series…

The Scapes series of Bonnie Edelman are terribly attractive.

Capturing grain fields, sea horizons, and sunsets from around the world, she chooses to blur the landscapes in such way, that she creates abstraction, bright and lively, where the horizon never seems to end.

Very colorful, we have, looking at it, the wonderful feeling to travel and discover new countries, while seating in a bullet train or in a plane.

Get me to this flight now…!

Images ©  Bonnie Edelman

Photogrammar, or how to time travel to the Great Depression and WWII…

In the middle of the Great Depression, the New Deal administration sent photographers such as, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and many more, to record the American life across the country and sensitise the public to the hard conditions of the farmers hit by the crisis of the 1930s.
This intensive project, which produced some of the most iconic images like the Migrant Mother of Dorothea Lange, has been brought back to life by the University of Yale in their clever database called Photogrammar.

This catalogue of 170,000 photos is accessible online, and allows you to search the pictures, by keyword, photographer name, year or via an impressive interactive map of the United States.
And it is indeed a fascinating collection!

The pictures, all taken between 1935 and 1945, are real snapshots of this troubled time (with of course the subjectivity of the photographers to take into account like any photo-documentary) : we discover (or rediscover) images of early gamblers in Las Vegas, child playing in the streets, but also the daily struggles of rural workers and urban job seekers.

This compilation allows you to explore this decade through the eyes of these talented photographs and it creates a fantastic time travel for any viewer.


Arthur Rothstein, son of a cotton sharecropper, lauderdale county, Mississippi, 1935


Walker Evans, Main Street Morgantown West Virginia, 1935

Carl Mydans, Front of a typical house offering furnished rooms for rent, District of Columbia, 1935

Carl Mydans, Front of a typical house offering furnished rooms for rent, District of Columbia, 1935

Arthur Rothstein, George Washington Bridge from New York City side, 1941

Arthur Rothstein, George Washington Bridge from New York City side, 1941

Arthur Rothstein, Employment agency, Sixth Avenue, New York, New York, 1937

Arthur Rothstein, Employment agency, Sixth Avenue, New York, New York, 1937

John Collier, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, 1941

John Collier, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, 1941