Réhahn’s Fine Art career has gone through many phases and inspirations. Each period of intense artistry reveals the artist’s ongoing interests in heritage, culture, color and the convergence of European and Asian art forms. Read on to learn more about Réhahn’s artistic process for his Fine Art photographs of Vietnam, Cuba, India, Malaysia and more.
Table of Contents
Exploring Destinations & Travel Portraits
Réhahn’s artistic journey began with the desire to discover the world and its diverse people. His journeys through Asia, South/Central America, and India were transformed into an exploration of singular people and their paths through history. This deep connection that he forged with his subjects drew him to move to Vietnam, where the majority of his oeuvres would be created.
Réhahn’s major works during this period of time were the “Hidden Smile” and “Ageless Beauty” projects, which resulted in some of his most iconic and celebrated images of Madame Xong and An Phuoc.
Alongside his work photographing the people, places and lifestyles of Vietnam, the artist continued his voyages to Cuba, India, Malaysia and more where he photographed cigars smokers, sadhus and nomads. Each portrait was a way to get to know the stories behind the faces and to learn more about what made each individual person memorable. This artistic period led him to be deemed one of the best travel portrait photographers in the world, according to numerous articles around the globe.
In addition to portraits, the artist was also inspired by the environments and lifestyles of his adopted country. The diverse beauty of Vietnam prompted Réhahn to published his first book “Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrast,” a Fine Art tome of photos curated from images taken during his first several years in the country. The bestselling book would eventually become a series, with the addition of two other volumes.
This period was a precursor to Réhahn’s Precious Heritage project because it awakened a need to learn about the cultural history and environments of the people he photographed.
The Precious Heritage Period
The Precious Heritage Project began slowly with photos of the Red Dao and the Hmong taken on one of Réhahn’s journeys to Northern Vietnam.
The seed of those meetings took root and grew into a passion to preserve and honor the cultures that he encountered. As Réhahn researched and met each of the 54+ ethnic groups in Vietnam, he also took with him the whispers of their individual stories – both joyful and sad. The artist knew he wanted to document each group with a portrait and a story, but he felt they deserved something more formal than a journalistic shot for posterity. He sought to show their nobility and his esteem for their traditions through the artistry of the images.
Inspired by the works of the 19th-century portrait photographer Felix Nadar, Réhahn shot each portrait in natural light with a strong focus on contrasts. The portraits are at once formally composed with each subject seated in their traditional tribal garments, yet, they are also utterly relatable. The subjects seem relaxed, as if ready to speak to the camera through their expressions.
Post Precious Heritage
Photographing Vietnam’s Artisans
When Réhahn officially finished his Precious Heritage Project in 2020, he was still engaged in deepening his understanding of Vietnam’s cultural history. The formal portraits for the Precious Heritage Museum were done but there was still so much to glean from the rich history of artisans, farmers, and fishermen who had lived and worked in Vietnam for centuries.
The stories of these artisans were often intrinsically linked to the traditions of the ethnic groups. Skills such as indigo, embroidery, weaving, agriculture and handicrafts were still practiced by the groups with pride.
In addition, the town of Hoi An is known for its talented artisans. It was here that Réhahn learned about skills such as incense making, net and mat weaving, and artisanal fishing, among other crafts.
The Yellow Period
Réhahn’s “Yellow Period” can be broken up into two distinct sections. The vibrant golden tones of Hoi An’s historical architecture had inspired the photographer since he moved there in 2011. Iconic photographs such as “Blue Windows”, “Traditions”, and “Balance” overlapped with intense periods of travel for the Precious Heritage Project and destinations outside of Vietnam. Their intrinsic tranquility and sense of balance perhaps came from the artist’s sense of being at home in Hoi An, far from the hustle of HCMC, Hanoi, Havana and Varanasi, within the cradle of Vietnam’s countryside.
Impressionism And Post-impressionism
Réhahn’s “Yellow Period” focused naturally on the colors of Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh because the bright blues and golds that were so prevalent in Van Gogh’s work could also be found through the Vietnamese countryside.
As a child, Réhahn had spent significant time in Honfleur, France, a coastal town in Normandy. Honfleur was also the birthplace of the 19th-century Impressionist movement in painting, which eventually led artists such as Monet, Pissarro, and Caillebotte to explore the effects of light in plein air. This rebellion against the stylistic rules of the time begat an explosion of colors, textures, and emotional expressions that inspired further experimentation in the works of Van Gogh, Cezanne and other artists.
These celebrated painters found their voices in the hushed beauty of French pastoral scenes—fields of wheat and wide open skies, farmers and fishermen at work—scenes that Réhahn found again in the pastoral beauty of Hoi An. The yellow of rice fields during harvest season and the soft blur of reflections taken in lotus ponds seemed to be taken during another era; yet, they remain utterly modern.
Alongside, the newfound interest in the beloved color palettes and textures of classic artists, Réhahn also began digging deeper into researching the moods, influences, and themes of other painters such as Edward Hopper. His newest works are an homage to certain admired artists from times past, yet, these oeuvres are entirely individual, seen through the lens of a 21st-century perspective.
Throughout all these artistic periods, Réhahn’s main focus has always been on heritage. What does it mean to transmit one’s culture down through generations? How can an individual story drive history? And, finally, what does it mean to bridge two cultures? The ancient traditions of Vietnam, alongside the artistic legacy of France?
These fundamental questions will always drive Réhahn’s work from portraiture to landscapes to scenes of life.
To learn more about each artistic period, we recommend reading the articles below.
Impressionist Photography In Vietnam