Renee Kemps on peace

You grew up in The Netherlands. How has your upbringing fuelled your desire to start photographing?

As a family, we spent one week each summer at the seaside in The Netherlands. It’s the place from where I have most of my memories, where my love for the ocean comes from, and where almost all of our family pictures are made. My dad used to take these beautiful photos with an old Pentax — a combination of wider shots with us as a family; on the beach, in a vast grassland out for a picnic, or making our own bread next to a fire pit, and extreme close ups of our faces; wet from salty sea water, sand in our hair, flushed cheeks. The way my dad took these images really stuck with me. I like to think this has fuelled my desire to photograph, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.

What were the first images you remember capturing and how do you look back on those images?

The very first pictures I took were food photographs. I was studying literature at the University of Amsterdam and was incredibly eager to learn more about photography, shoot (more) photos, develop and grow in this field, but didn’t have the time or network to get there. As a solution, I would invest all my free time in playing around with food and set ups at home, discovering the different ways of using light, compositions and technical features. Looking back at those works now, I can be very judgemental and think it could have been better. At the same time, I also realise that this is where it all started.

Were you always more a creative being or did your career start elsewhere at first? How has this contributed to your style and vision?

Growing up, I was always creative, yet always focused on going to University, getting a degree and a “good” job. A few years into University and doing lots of side- and personal creative projects, I was invited to New York for a Photography Award. I won the Award and realised that maybe I could actually pursue a career in the creative industry. Despite pursuing a degree and other career initially, and only “giving in” to my creative interest at a later stage, I do think it has always been there and that this time was essential to find out who I was and what I wanted to do.

What has shaped you the most in becoming a photographer? 

The defining moment in becoming a photographer was when I was living in Tokyo with my boyfriend, just after finishing University and deciding to pursue a photography career full-time. They were one of the most difficult months of my life, living in this new country, with such a different culture, way of interaction and working, and no back-up plan. I desperately wanted to make my photography career work, had so many ambitions, ideas and projects planned, yet I found myself in a place where everything felt impossible and frustrating because of a lack of language, culture, and looks. Yet, this was the time where I really created a foundation for my work and future career.

Whether it’s interior, travel or lifestyle photography, what do you seek out in your work? 

It’s always light, textures and shapes. The interplay of these three define my work.

Whether it’s lighting, composition or styling, how do you ‘shape’ your photographs? 

It is a fleeting moment where just briefly the light hits an object or section of what is documented, in combination with a close study of minimalism and geometry.

What is the story you tell in the body of your work? And what sentiment do you think you ultimately leave your viewers with?

I like my images to be intimate and textural, with unique details of light and shadows. It has to draw the viewer in, encouraging them to observe what they see and feel the serenity of the moment when it was taken.

Do you think a photographer’s character seeps through in photos? If so, how does your personality come through in your photography? 

Absolutely. Even though many of us walk around with an iPhone and can instantly document whatever is around us, all of the same object or moment, I believe we see everything differently and tell a story through how we choose to eternalise it in a photo. It connects back to what we seek out in our images and what we feel drawn to. For me that is light, textures and shapes. I see the world in these moments of light and shadows, of lines and compositions and textures.

You have an impressive client list. Can you walk us through some of the most challenging projects? What were your favourites and why?

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work for many different clients in different places. I love the diversity of these projects — a combination of commercial and advertising productions, collaborations with smaller brands and personal projects. The most challenging shoots are when something is completely out of your control, like the weather, or a faulty object/set up. We’ve had it a few times, and most often there are ways to make it work eventually, just differently than initially planned. There’s too many favourite shoots so far. I’ll always love the shoots for Aman, with their incredible properties. Shoots have taken me to the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I love meeting new people, discovering new places and documenting this in my way.

Looking back at your portfolio, how would you say you’ve changed as a photographer over the years? 

Obviously, coming from food photography all the way at the beginning, I’ve changed completely. I hardly do any food photography anymore and focus solely on interior, architecture and lifestyle. I’d say that over the years my work has become more refined, stronger in its style, and clearer in its vision. I’m at a point now where I know my talent and what I can offer clients. My portfolio feels like a pure expression of this and my personal interest.

You are also building a portfolio in film. Has photography made you understand film better and if so, how?

Film to me is so completely different to photography, yet has so much overlap at the same time. The way of working and post production requires different input and knowledge and not a lot of people seem to combine both. However, film can be such a beautiful extension of photography. It has the ability to be more “live”, tactile, and inclusive, opposed to photos. Where photos can tell a story and transfer a feeling, it is only to a certain extent. Video takes you (even more) in.

In an age where aspiring creators can easily pick up a camera and learn from the pros online, how do you feel it has changed the current state of photography?

There is an incredible amount of talented people. I believe we all have to be flexible, open and respectful of each other’s work. Yes, there will be more and more competition, more opportunities for everyone, and more moments where you might not be able to compete with the new/easy/modern technology and youth, yet the one thing you should do is to stay close to yourself and keep going — create, make, realise dreams and ideas. Investing in your talent, interest and connections with other (likeminded) people will get you to opportunities. 

What would you like to see changed in the photography landscape currently? 

Inclusiveness, and openness. However, this is an issue that goes much deeper and is affecting all industries and places.

You travel a lot for your work. Do you find a sense of peace in your travels? If so, how does that translate into your photography? 

I must admit that this is one of the things I struggle with. I surrender to my shoots, my travels, and get so absorbed in the work that I forget to take care of myself, especially when traveling back-to-back and having stressful hours.  However, being in the moment of documenting, there comes a stillness over me, a focus where I hardly can escape from. It’s very difficult for me to stop working, or stop taking pictures. 

How do you balance life and work when you’re on the road all the time? 

I am still learning. There are opportunities where I could have better hours, or a slower paced day around a production, but then again, the world is beautiful and I see it, feel it, and just can’t escape the urge to absorb it all, document it, and be part of it.

What have you learned over the years about yourself and how has it changed you and your work? 

Firstly, everything take an incredible amount of time. Secondly, that it’s a good thing it takes a long time. Most often, what we invest in something will only bear fruit at a much later stage. I had to learn it the hard way but have gotten much better at seeing the bigger picture and knowing what I’m working on for the future. I now also appreciate the length, the investment, the ongoing relationships or goals or projects I get involved in. Instead of one-off things, you can actually build up layer by layer, and more realistically get to a goal or achievement.

If you could leave our readers with one message, what would it be? 

Try it out.

Quick fire questions with Renee

What film can you watch over and over again?

In the mood for love by Wong Kar Wai

What childhood memory do you revisit often?

A week at the seaside with my family. I went the for the first time when I was just born, and have been going back for 27 years.

When you’re not photographing, what do you do?

Mostly cooking, which is my most treasured me-moment. It’s one of the only things I can do to stop the rush, the thoughts in my head and stress in life. I also like to go for long walks, go to museums, go out for dinner to discover new flavours, and read a good book in the sun.

What book are you reading currently?

Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector

What does being Dutch mean to you?

I don’t feel Dutch.

How would you describe the interior style of your home?

Soft and minimal, but cosy and welcoming.

Three words that come to mind at the moment?

Dreamy, calm waters

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