Tell us a Story

Erwin Olaf offers a look into the lives and stories of others in this exhibition at Galerie Wagner + Partner. A great gallery space on Karl-Marx Allee. Unlike the gallery space which remains very rustic, the photographs in the exhibition “short stories” have had a lot of work done on them. This over-photoshopped look creates a fantasy-like effect and puts the “story” side of the exhibition into the photographs. Although they look like fictional stories, at the same time the images capture recognisable moments.

Socially Awkward

“The Hallway” captures the awkward moment between two strangers waiting in an enclosed space, one waiting for the door and one for the lift. The expression on the man’s face is what makes it so awkward. The unnatural straight ahead stare at nothing which shows awareness of someone else and an unwillingness to make eye-contact. Lifts tend to be awkward enough as it is whether you are in it or waiting for it. People are awkward about being in small spaces with strangers, they tend to feel the space and silence between themselves and feel obligated to talk….maybe that’s just the Brits!

This lack of interaction between people seems to be a regular theme in this exhibition. Characters are often placed at awkward angles to one another and don’t make eye contact. A hospital scene, another awkward place, shows a patient and a doctor. The faces suggest bad news, but you have to take a closer look to see what this could be about.

Little Hints

In this exhibition Erwin Olaf has set the scene for you to put together the story. Little hints lie in the detail. Some more obvious than others – slutty school girl looking unhappy plus poster showing foetal development in the background, I’m going to point out the apparently obvious – teen pregnancy? Other stories are less written: Is the young boxer next to the school girl connected to her? What could the story of a woman staring forlornly out of a window be? Take a look at her clothes and her situation and the little details in the shot. It is these mundane details of everyday surroundings that we wouldn’t normally notice which offer clues to the narrative.

erwin olaf, short stories, galerie wagner and partnerTake a wild guess! Photo: “Hope” © Erwin Olaf, courtesy of Galerie Wagner + Partner

Dark Stories

A couple of images had an accompanying video which told a short story. The slightly creepy mirrored lives played simultaneously were much more abstract than any of the stories I had been guessing at….time to rethink my approach! I was lucky enough to be able to watch a couple of Olaf’s other films. They had a similarly dark feeling without a dark situation and “Rain” reflected the communication problems the characters in the photographs seem to have. The characters spoke no words and a heavy silence sits between people at a dinner table with the sound of rain outside and jumpy glances between the diners.

People Watching

It’s great to go to an exhibition where you can create your own story. Erwin Olaf has set the scene and you can spend some time getting creative yourself! After filling in the stories at the exhibition I continued my guesswork with real people across the road at Café Sybille

  • Galerie Wagner + Partner “Short Stories” Erwin Olaf, March 16th – May 12th 2012, Tue – Sat: 12pm – 6pm. Artist talk with Erwin Olaf and Matthias Harder (Helmut Newton Foundation Berlin): April 26th 2012, 7pm.