Mixing photo journalism with studio photography, Olaf emerged on 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 in the same year. In his earlier work on the subject of social exclusion Olaf was deliberately disturbing with the intention of raising awareness and he was dedicated towards exploring issues of class, race, sexual taste, beliefs, habits and grace. In the series Rain (2004), Hope (2005), Grief (2007) and Fall (2008) Olaf challenges the notion of domestic bliss. Dusk (2009) and Dawn (2010) show how culture can become repression, despite a beautiful appearance. A similar disengagement takes place in Olaf's Hotel (2010) series in which he explores the subtle range of detached melancholic emotions in dimly-lit exquisitely furnished 1950s hotel rooms. In the new series The Siege and Relief of Leiden (2011) Olaf depicts a number of now iconic scenes from the relief and brings the leading figures together in a dramatic setting. Olaf took his inspiration from existing paintings and new research into the experience of the 3rd of October.
In 1987 he began working with film which has since then continued to be an important medium for his art. Often these movies provide a parallel history to his colour photography. In the past years Olaf's films have been screened at several leading museums and film festivals all around the world.
In 2008 he received a Lucie Award from the United States of America for his achievements in photography. Recently he won the prestigious Dutch State price of the Arts, Johannes Vermeer Award 2011. The jury selected him because of the high quality of his entire body of work.