Hans Kemp: Photography That Requires Participation

Hans Kemp is a Dutch award-winning photojournalist, known as the creator of great photography books such as Bikes of Burden, Divine Encounters, Burmese Light and several more. Most, if not all, of his works revolve around life in Asia, any and all to do with humanity and our cultural life in multiple aspects: religion, street life, and the making of livelihoods.

Hans Kemp, although from the Netherlands, first arrived in Asia in 1986 on a one-way ticket and travelled through Asia for 18 months before he went back home. It is obvious then that his heart had long been captured by this vibrant continent. Kemp then established his base in Hong Kong that allowed him to further develop his photography skills. He subsequently moved to Vietnam and produced several books depicting the Burmese life. 


“I'm a practitioner of the "fly on the wall" school of documentary photography. I try to be as close to my subject as possible without changing their behaviour, preferably without the subject noticing me. So when out photographing I familiarise myself with the subject and the surroundings as much as possible and at the same time let the subject "get used to me"” – Hans Kemp

Hans Kemp tends to be immersive in his photography, almost as if he is one with the subject. In the making of one of his most notable books Divine Encounters, Hans Kemp devoted 17 whole years, travelling to a dozen countries in search of vivid celebrations of faith, capturing the scenes and human expressions during sacred rituals and religious ceremonies across Asia. The result is a 400-page collection of beautiful and sometimes startling images, an in-depth pictorial exploration of Asia's long and vibrant relationship with deities and spirits.


"Photography only has the visual aspect to convey this richness and in order to be successful, the photographer has to be skilled in the art of omission. Omit everything that doesn’t help suck in the viewer into feeling present. Exaggerate, get up close, try an unusual angle and don’t be afraid of shadows. And above all, photograph with your heart." – Hans Kemp

During his stay in Vietnam, Kemp produced a photobook titled Burden of Bikes, made up of photos that show motorbikes carrying incredible loads of stuff. In the making of this series, for two years Kemp went out on the Vietnamese streets riding on the back of a Honda Super Cub, as if blending in with the locals, while looking for photos to include in his book. He also travelled to different areas of the country to look for new scenes and unique items being transported. Kemp’s curiosity and eagerness to see more of a country is what allowed him to create unprecedented photographs of mundane life and culture. The book Burden of Bikes now acts as a tribute to the motorcycles and drivers as the backbone of the Vietnamese economy.


“Trying to tell the story as it happens, in a visually engaging way, so that those who are not present will be able to get a pretty good impression -- that's my aim.” – Hans Kemp

Currently, Kemp is based in Bangkok, as the world looks forward to his perspective of this energising corner of the continent. It seems that after 27 long years, Kemp’s enchantment and fascination with the diverse personality of Asia is still well alive and fiery.


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