Réhahn was born in Bayeux, Normandy in France. An avid traveler, he toured more than 35 countries with his camera before settling in the coastal city of Hoi An. Ever since then, Vietnam and its culture have inspired him to take stunning photographs. His work has been featured on the covers of magazines including Condé Nast Traveler, The Times, and BBC. His photo books are bestsellers and have been published worldwide.
In the interview, Réhahn revealed exciting insights into his life and work in Vietnam, explaining what fascinates him so much about this country and describing his projects "Giving Back" and "Precious Heritage".
5 QUESTIONS TO RÉHAHN
Rehahn, could you tell us a little bit about your background and what got you into photography?
I was born in Normandy and I have always loved art in general. As you can see, I have a preference for impressionism in painting and I think this influences my photography. In 2011, I moved to Vietnam to work on an ambitious project to meet, photograph, document, and interview 54 different ethnic groups of Vietnam. The project wrapped up in January 2020, and I returned to taking photos of scenes of life celebrating the vibrant colors of Vietnam. I wanted to mix art photography and documentary again, from the rice fields to the architecture. The things that I want to document in photos today are evolving and won't be around tomorrow. So that's my main motivation: to capture the traditional cultures and trades that become more and more modern each day.
Woman with a conical hat smiling at the camera - Photo: Réhahn.
You live in Vietnam and do a lot of your work there. What's your relationship with the country? What do you find most fascinating or inspiring about it?
Vietnam is a fascinating country of contrasts where ancient traditions meet modernity. For an artist, it's like a vast, outdoor studio. I've been there for more than ten years and will without a doubt stay for the next ten.
I live in Hoi An at the moment, which is nicknamed the yellow city of Vietnam. It's a UNESCO world heritage site with beaches, rivers, mountains, and rice fields. There are still a lot of artisanal activities taking place here, such as lantern and incense production. I can go out for a few hours, lose myself in the depths of the countryside and discover some extraordinary artisans.
Then it's just a matter of traveling a few miles to discover a completely different Vietnam, where different ethnic groups live in houses on stilts and wear traditional dress... the whole country is a vast, outdoor studio.
One of Réhahn´s art works hanging in a colorful living room - Photo: Réhahn.
Your photography is striking for its very expressive portraits, and very colorful and attractive settings. What's your usual method? Do you go with the flow, or do you plan everything in advance? And how do you choose your subjects and settings?
Since the Precious Heritage project (the 54 ethnic groups project) finished, I have been riding my motorbike around aimlessly. I travel with my camera and stop in villages that look nice and at landscapes that are inspiring. I only work with natural light and spend a lot of time with people, which allows me to build special connections. I don't steal photos and financially support the people in mine through my "Giving Back" project. I've watched so many children grow up in the ten years that I've been here, which has been an extraordinary gift.
Portrait of elderly man - Photo: Réhahn.
What makes a portrait a success for you? Do you sometimes have some reservations? What are you trying to communicate through your portraits?
I don't have any reservations, because the people of Vietnam are friendly, hospitable people who often invite you in for a cup of tea. Creating a real relationship takes time. The photo is secondary, we have to get to know each other, understand each other and only then can we immortalize our meeting through photography. That's the advantage of living here full-time. Interaction is key.
I've taken portraits of a lot of elderly people. Their smiles have a youthful joy in them, and I love their authenticity. I don't want to erase their wrinkles, I want to celebrate them.
Two images hanging on a wall - Photos: Réhahn.
You have already been working with WhiteWall for quite some time to print your work. What are your reasons for this? Which materials do you prefer for your work?
I like how responsive WhiteWall is and the comprehensive offer in terms of printing. I sell photos on metallic paper because I think it does justice to the colors in my work. My collectors could spend up to 50,000 euros on one photo, so I need the best quality, and I think I've found it.