By Réhahn

The Philosophy…

“Karma – The sum of a person’s actions in this and in previous states of existence…Viewed as
deciding their fate in future existences.” In other words: “what goes around comes around”

Going full circle

This word and its meaning, carry special weight in Réhahn’s journey as a photographer.
What starts as a smile and a click of a camera, leads to the communication of souls.

behind the scene with Rehahn

What sets him apart is his yearning to capture the soul of the person. This process is both a physical and spiritual journey for him. And when you speak to him, you learn that what excites him isn’t so much the idea of taking a picture, but the idea of being able to capture the subject’s story. Forget about hair and makeup. This is about going deeper than the surface… Capturing not only the emotions reflected in the eyes but also the cultural history reflected in the lines of the face.

Once the photo is framed, displayed in the gallery and admired by many, to Réhahn, the journey is still not complete. He goes one step further and retraces his steps back to the village. He sets out to find the person featured in his photo and then gives them a gift to enhance the quality of their lives. And in so doing, closes the circle of karma

This idea of ‘giving back’ by Réhahn has turned into his philosophy, his mantra. He believes that photographers have an opportunity to take on some social responsibility by giving back to those who have influenced their work. He feels this with all his heart and hopes to set an example so that everyone’s lives are left a little better than before.

Both the subject and the artist benefit from this way of thinking. As someone who has witnessed his story first hand, it’s clear to see that this philosophy of ‘conscious photography’ can turn into a movement.

The birth of the “Giving Back Project”


The Openning Of The Circle

It all started with Mrs. Bui Thi Xong, a 74 year old lady who features on the cover of Réhahn’s first successful book called “Vietnam, Mosaic of contrasts” and later she features in a different project called “Hidden smile”Madam Xong, as she’s respectfully called by Réhahn, has since become the most famous woman in Vietnam, featuring in more than two hundred published articles worldwide.Her face is now the most recognized face in Vietnam and in some parts of the world.

This iconic photo also features in The Vietnamese Women’s Museum, representing the strength, kindness and hard work of the women of Vietnam.

Their special story started in the summer of 2011 in Hoi An, central Vietnam. At this time, Réhahn was a tourist with a keen interest in Vietnam. During his photographic explorations, he met this lovely old lady while walking along the riverside and, instinctively drawn to her, hopped onto her boat. He asked her if he could take her portrait. With a shy response, she awkwardly obliged and after seeing her own photo, started giggling and covered her smile with one hand. This action inspired Réhahn to take another picture of her in this pose and then she covered her mouth with one hand and her forehead with the other. Framing her eyes to do the smiling, the birth of the Hidden smile project began.

At that moment neither of them realized that this photo would later become one of the most iconic photos in Vietnam and now the world.

Madam Xong and Réhahn at the Women’s Museum (Hanoi 2016)

“Vietnam, Mosaic of contrasts Book” – Best seller 2014

Choosing this photo as the cover of his book “Vietnam, Mosaic of contrasts” came without hesitation to Réhahn. To him this image is a powerful representation of the Vietnamese spirit: Feeling the joy of life despite old age and adversity. This is a friendly reminder to all of us that there’s something to be grateful for in every day.

Xong and her boat

Madam Xong’s Dream…

Réhahn decided to include Madam Xong’s story in his book. But he wanted to know what her biggest dream was. Hers was a humble dream of owning a new boat. The boat she had was worn out and she wanted to have a new boat she could be proud of, one that tourists would be happy to be on. Most of us dream of retirement but not Madam Xong, she loves what she does and plans to keep working because she passionately loves meeting new people. Right then after discovering her dream, the seeds of the ‘giving back project’ were planted in Réhahn’s mind. He promised her that if the book sells well, he’d return and buy her a new boat!

Gift for Mrs Xong

The Closing Of The Circle

As promised, the book was published in January 2014 and became an international success. More than 1000 copies were sold within a few months in 29 different countries – The photographer stood by his word and made her dream come true.

In June of the same year, 6 months after publishing his book, he made Madam Xong the proud and very happy owner of her very own new boat.

Her smile now appears in multiple international newspapers such as National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, Daily Mail, BBC in France, Holland, Italy, Russia, Cuba etc… The list goes on!

An Phuoc
A little Vietnamese with blue eyes…

An Phuoc is seven years old. She is the youngest in her family and lives with her brother, sister and parents near Phan Rang. Her parents make a living from a small carpentry and pottery business. They’re a modest Vietnamese family who has never left their hometown. They are descendants of the Cham minority group.

The Cham people have Malayo-Polynesian and Hindu origins, with strong Buddhist and Hindu influence. This becomes apparent when witnessing their rituals. There are close to 130,000 Cham now residing in the south of Vietnam. A few thousand Cham have settled in the desert region of Ninh Thuan, north of Nha Trang. Only some still wear the traditional dress but all speak their own dialect, which is fundamentally different from other Vietnamese languages.

An Phước is notably different from other little Cham girls in her village. She has the uncharacteristic feature of having two incredibly piercing blue eyes. They look like two blue azure marbles which is in contrast with her dark skin and hair. She’s always surprised when the few foreigners that pass through her village comment on her eyes.

The Openning Of The Circle

Réhahn first became aware of this little girl when one of his more than 230 000 Facebook followers contacted him to tell him about her. He always wanted to learn more about the Cham minority group so when he received this information, he jumped at the opportunity to go. He took a flight to Nha Trang and made his way to Phan Rang with the intention of documenting the Cham and finding An Phuoc, who’s known as the ‘little girl with cat eyes’ in her community.

On arrival, Réhahn was taken to the family’s modest home where he was warmly welcomed. An Phuoc’s paternal great-grandfather was French, which explains the fact that this unique feature runs in the family. Her father has two blue eyes and her sister, Sapa, has one blue and one hazel.

Réhahn was invited to have dinner with the family. A warm connection was made and he eventually ended up spending two days as a guest in their home. They spent those two days laughing, sharing stories and taking photos. They made an instant connection and became friends for life right there and then.

Hidden Smile of Cham girl

The Closing Of The Circle

Réhahn just knew that this little girl’s photo would garner a lot of attention so he wanted to do something special for the whole family. He bought everyone new clothes and he also bought An Phuoc’s older sister, Sapa, a new bicycle. She’s now able to cycle to school which is several kilometers away.

Réhahn also bought the family a cow, which they affectionately named Bò Lai, which roughly translates into ‘Cow from Foreigner’.

It’s hard to explain the connection that was made between Réhahn and this family but they definitely touched each other’s hearts. So great is the connection that Réhahn promised to invite them to his home town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam. For a family that had never left their hometown, this news obviously generated much excitement and joy. The idea of them flying on a plane for the first time was completely surreal.

The family were flown to Hoi An where they stayed for four days as Réhahn’s guests in his home. They also had a chance to see Réhahn’s gallery Couleurs d’Asie in the city center. With Réhahn’s support, the two sisters are now learning to speak English. Learning English is vital because it creates more opportunities for the children and family in the future. Find the article of An Phuoc in Réhahn’s second book, Vietnam Mosaic of Contrast Vol II

The story of Kim Luan


The Openning Of The Circle

This iconic photo symbolizes the respect between the M’nong tribe and elephants. What makes this picture even more special, is the contrasting opposites of a small girl in front of such a huge wild creature. Réhahn was unable to get close to the wild elephant, yet the little girl was able to. This photo is considered as Fine Art Photography and was made to show respect human should have toward elephants

M’nong people are well-known for their elephant training skills. Tracking and domesticating elephants is a very tricky and dangerous job. The hunters not only require special skills to overcome the challenges of capturing them, but they also need to overcome the adversity that a wild jungle presents. This image is soon to become part of history because sadly, there are only 50 of these elephants left in the whole country. And the M’nong don’t produce their traditional costumes anymore.

Taken in 2014, this shot has been published in more than 40 countries and several word famous magazines such as Times magazine and National Geographic. This photo is by far Réhahn’s most famous photo in his collection.

The Closing Of The Circle

In June 2016, Réhahn went back to ‘give back’ to the family. He offered to help them renovate their house but they declined. They needed something more valuable to them than material possessions. They asked him to buy them a cow. It’s easy to feed and can later be resold for two.

Réhahn bought two cows, one mother and one baby female calf. This way, they can reproduce more cows becoming a great investment for the family. The whole village came to watch the cows being delivered and to congratulate the family and welcome Réhahn.

The rice wine came out soon the event turned into a full blown village party! As a parting gift, Réhahn was given a precious piece of vintage clothing to add to his Precious Heritage Collection.

The Conclusion

Réhahn believes photos are like time capsules. Each one filled with moments, a story of our lives captured and sealed in time. As a photographic storyteller he sees every line in the face as a map that tells our life story. We all have so many stories to share and often the most interesting stories are hidden in a culture in the remotest part of the world. Réhahn aims to tell these stories through his lens.

The personal joy he receives in ‘giving back’ has touched his heart in a profound way. He’s made it his mission to start the first wave in the ‘giving back’ movement. His hope is to inspire other photographers to do the same.

Read the BBC article about the project

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