Facing Life and Death

Joop Valstar by Erwin Olaf
Joop Valstar by Erwin Olaf

A dying man asked photographer Erwin Olaf to make a farewell portrait. He died a couple of hours after this final picture was taken, photographed at home as he was already too ill to come to the studio.

What strikes me is the powerful presence and the unflinching peace that is emanating from the face, shining brightly through the frail body that is about to give way. The artist managed to capture both the impermanent and the transcendental.


10 Replies to “Facing Life and Death”

  1. What strikes me most about this photograph are the eyes. That ‘powerful presence’ is seen most strongly there, I think. Then there are the hands! I love the rings – they speak of his life – and the powerful, yet gentle, grip that he has on the cane, which is supporting him. The body itself is old and tells both a unique and universal story. There is Truth here. As you say, both impermanent and transcendental. Thank you so much for posting this, Anna.
    1. Yes, the eyes are very powerful, I think because they reflect full acceptance without fear or resignation, a power that can withstand, that can endure, that is immovable, and yet is gentle and soft. Indeed the hands are a full story on their, of richness, of abundance, of an unique life lived to the full.
  2. Thank you, this image appears to show contentment, dignity and acceptance. I wonder if it was known that death was so near?
    1. Hi Mo, yes, the gentleman in the picture, Joop Valstar, was a psychotherapist trained in unitive body psychotherapy, he knew he was dying and this portrait is a legacy of sorts.
      He died in 2018, a quote from the obituary by one of his colleagues said:
      “In a world which is increasingly superficial and directed to appearances and the outside world Joop was a man of character and depth. Not to say that he didn’t care for his personal appearance – on the contrary, he did. He dressed with flair. Perhaps the first thing you noticed about him was his beautiful coat or hand-crafted shoes; then his tall stature, greying hair and marked face, which could crease with a grin and warmth, or with great seriousness.

      Joop listened. He chewed over what you said – perhaps for some minutes, some hours or sometimes days. Then would come a comment or an answer to a question or a problem, which he had considered from many different angles. He was never satisfied with a simple answer – his solutions were rounded, thought out, compassionate, surprising, meaningful.”

      It is the talent of Erwin Olaf as an artist who manage to capture in a single image the essence, the being of the man in front of his camera.

Leave a Reply