(Photography) PETER KEMP
“I am trying to create warm light and mood like the old painters did. But in my opinion the story line in these old paintings is often very dull. So I am trying to create a more attractive story with a smile.”
Dutch photographer Peter Kemp shoots elaborately designed and staged “storytelling pictures.” His surreal and comic images are infused with a painterly quality. In this interview, he discusses his creative outlook and work process.
You create many images which convey a strong sense of character and story. What is often your inspiration for a new photograph or series? Is it particular people you know or have met, or historical figures, or mixture of both?
A mixture of both. I read a lot and that can give me ideas. Also watching news creates new ideas.
You have said that your images are strongly inspired by Dutch masters such as Vermeer. What are the particular qualities of those artists that most often manifest in your images, such as types of lighting and composition?
I am trying to create warm light and mood like the old painters did. But in my opinion the story line in these old paintings is often very dull. So I am trying to create a more attractive story with a smile.
There is a sense of playfulness in many of your photographs, with humorous and surreal touches. Are there any particular humorist or surrealist artists, photographers, or writers who have influenced your ideas for these types of pictures?
Sure. I am a big fan of a Dutch painter/photographer called Teun Hocks. He is a true master and big source of inspiration to me.
Many of your images feature models in elaborate and often whimsical period costumes. Do you regularly work with specific costume designers? How much input on the costume design do you have, such as making sketches for specific costuming beforehand?
I mainly work with a specific costume designer in the town where I live. This company is called Something Extra .
What has been one of your most creatively satisfying fashion shoots?
A shoot called “Garbage Dres.” All components you see in this picture — including the dress — were made from garbage and found on the street.
You also work with a lot of unique props, such as old cameras, telescopes, phonograph players, and clocks. Are many of these objects a part of your own collection? Or where do you find most of it?
Some are mine, but most of them I borrow from good friends and stores who know me by now.
Countless stories could be built around many of your photographs. Have you ever considered working with a writer to develop full written stories based off your images? It could be a book of stories with your photographs, for example.
Hmm…this sounds like a great idea. If there are any writers who are interested please let me know. For now I do my own storytelling pictures and try to work in series. But I have to say honestly that it is quite difficult to create three or more great pics on one theme.
In videos made featuring behind-the-scenes productions of your photos, you can be seen directing your models almost in the manner of a film director, while you are assisted by a small crew. Your photo series are similar to films with their distinctive narratives, production designs, sets, and costuming. Has making films or videos ever attracted you, or do you think still photography will always be the medium that most interests you?
No, I am getting more and more interested in moving images. The still photography I am doing now seems to limit me more and more. So maybe in the future…
What is in store for you soon? Any shows or work coming out that you would like people to know about?
I am working on a new big project now for half a year. Building props, writing and preparing. I cannot tell too much, but you will surely see when we go for it…
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All photographs © Peter Kemp