Vietnam photo stories by Réhahn

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From the Editors: Interview with Réhahn, a french travel and portrait photographer based in Vietnam. Réhahn travels to meet people and captures the most natural moment of those individual he has encountered. Listed as the fourth best portrait photographer in the world alongside very famous photographers such as Steve McCurry, Jimmy Nelsson, Lee Jeffries.

Exclusive interview with Réhahn

Tell us more about yourself first as a human and then secondly as a photographer

I was born in Normandy, France, 35 years ago. I am perfectionist in everything I do, thus allowing me to successfully achieve my objectives. I am very persistent; though, I never give up ! I have started to travel for the pleasure of discovering when I was 26 (The year of my first passport). I became fond of traveling and I invested in a small camera (Canon 350D). At first, I did nothing special, I took a picture of me in front of the Taj Mahal, in front of Machu Picchu.. but i promptly felt that I was better behind my lens than in front of it! I then invested in a 50D then a 5D several years later. I took a liking for photography, and especially for portraits. It has become my specialty, and practically an obsession to find the characters, the people, and the unordinary faces! 

One of the things that drew us to your work is the intimate quality there. It's obvious you have a real connection with these people. Can you talk about that?

I am not a professional street photographer, or at least it does not interest me. I need to communicate, to interact; I need a story to complete my photo. Moreover, I do not think it is possible to capture something naturally within 5 min. It takes time to have the right expression of the models’ face. It happens that I take 30 minutes to learn my subject before taking my first shot. Its not easy because you get scared of missing the opportunity but the pressure makes it even better! 

Who do you count among your biggest influences, photographically or otherwise?

I really love Steve McCurry's work. It's always a big inspiration to open his books. After closing it, I feel that I want to go to shoot. This is what we call inspiration right? 

Do you do any post-processing on your images? 

Actually, I would call it more development. I do not add nor remove elements, but rather just adjustments, such as colors, contrasts, white balance like how we did it with analog photography. I use Light room essentially and less and less Photoshop. 

What do you hope people take away from your photography? 

I would like people to feel what I feel when I meet these models. I want a portrait to set off a reaction, an emotion, and not just on a technical/literal term! I find that photographers take themselves too seriously and forget the person in front of them. If being a professional photographer is to debate on forums, I prefer to remain an amateur and use that time to take photos! 

What about your favorite moments. Is there any experience that stands out above the rest?

My best time was the meeting with the lady on my cover of “Vietnam – Mosaic of Contrasts”. She lives in Hoi An, and we have become friends. When I asked her permission to put her on the cover, I have interviewed and presented her to my readers. She told me her dream was to have a new boat because she still works on her small rowboat in spite of her age. She transports tourists for rides on the river at 1euro/30min. I promised to buy her one if my books sold well. As a result, last year in June, I have kept my promise. It has been a very emotional moment for the both of us. She is the reason of my book’s success. 

Could you please share your top tips for other photographers when taking shots of people or what are the key rules that anyone new to this style of photography should remember? 

I think the secret is the time you spend with people. I am lucky enough to travel on my motorbike (in Vietnam) and I have all the freedom I need for that matter. I do not steal any photos and I do not go against people’s will if they refuse. Smiling is my second tip. Smile, and doors will open for you! (Especially in developing countries) 

When we spoke over the phone you also mentioned something about hidden smile. What is it?

That is also one of my huge projects on going. Smiling is a global way to express emotion. It has become a widely-known sign throughout the years. But I see past muscle-tensing. I focus on the details that give an importance to the smile; the wrinkles around the eyelids are the traces of life left as an imprint on their body. In my gallery you can already see very nice collection of "Hidden smile" Visit my website and you will know exactly what I'm talking abou.

Recently you have had quite few exhibitions of your photography and the Book "Vietnam - Mosaic of Contrast", you released. Please tell us more about the book

This first book is the best-of my first years in Vietnam. I had 30000 photos when I made it and I wanted to put some of them on paper! It’s every photographers dream, no? (smile) My book came out on the 15th January 2014 and sold 800 copies in 5 months, in 27 countries. I am very active online and I have over 255 000 fans on Facebook. It helped me a lot! It is a big book (2.3kg) composed of 145 of my best shots. You will find it online on my website  I'm also working now on the second edition of "Vietnam - Mosaic of Contrast II". The book will be avilable before Christmas 2015.

We saw some other photography boks on your website. What are they all about?

"FACES OF RAJASTHAN" is a small photobook but rich in emotions at the same time with more than 70 of my best photographs taken during his trip in May 2014.  An amazing collection of portraits from Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Pushkar.

"CHILDREN OF VIETNAM" is a small photobook displaying more than 70 of my best photographs taken during his excursion in 2014. The photographs were taken in remote areas in the North West (Dien Bien Phu, Y-Ty, Moc Chau…) and in the Central Highlands (Kontum, Dalat, Dak Nong…)

Vietnam Mosaic Of Contrast

How would you rate advertising your work via publishing in magazines and social networking? Do you think it was part of your success?

I did over 200 articles in media in the past few months, especially in Vietnam where I have made 28 TV appearances as well as on BBC London, and almost every newspaper and magazine in the country. On top of this, I had nice visibility in Paris in September 2014 where I was the guest of a big festival as well as this year in Normandy for another big festival (3000 visitors). I also became a contributor to National Geographic, I had a cover in Conde Nast Traveller, 6 pages in Marie Claire (China) and so on... There's no success without media! I know many good photographers, better than I, but they miss the point in term of marketing and media.

The question we love to ask; your experience with publishing your work in Camerapixo? 

Camerapixo has been a turning point in my career. I was alone; I published my photos online and sometimes many doubts on what I should do. Then I met Anetta and Artur and everything changed! Still today, after publishing my book and my website, they bring to me very precious help. All photographs need external point of view. With Camerapixo, everything has been done so quickly, that they had to wait for me. They know how to dedicate their energy in work and think like a photographer as well (the advantage of being a photographer and designer). 

Is there any gear in particular that helps you in your photography?

I work quite simply. My 5D Mark III and my lenses (70-200mm F2.8) I use no filter nor flash. 

Anything else you would like to tell our readers, maybe inspiring message?

You will always find someone to criticize what you do, but that should not stop you from advancing. Avoid the forum debates; it is a waste of time. In a few words: concentrate on photography and take as many pictures as you can.

What are your goals for the future? 

I would love to travel around the world to exhibit my work. In parallel, I would love to release my books on my future travels and open a few photo galleries in Asia’s big cities. In the meantime, I am planning a trip to Tibet but the next trip will be Mongolia and North of India.

Thank you Réhahn for taking the time to do this interview.
We are happy to welcome you on board among other photographers.
Your photography is very valuable in this community and very beneficial for our readers.

Camerapixo Team

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