Romancing the Old

An Interview with Peter Kemp

Peter Kemp shares the same city as once inhabited by legendary painter Vermeer – Delft, Netherlands. And the 52 year old photographer is profoundly affected by the fact. His conceptual artwork on photographic plate bears the intensity of dramatic expressions so essential for an evocative experience of a good story in the frozen moment inside the ornate frame.

‘I derive inspiration from the people I see on street, while listening to music, watching movies, or by looking at old paintings. And create my own story in my head that may lead to a new photo project.’

Your art blurs the distinction of fine art painting and photography. What induced you to pick up and master your transition from painting to photography? How much of your experience as a painter has been an aid in your development as a fine art photographer?

During my childhood, I loved to draw. I kept busy in my own world creating little stories about knights and cowboys. Later on, my great passion became scuba diving, and using photography to picture the underwater world that I love: showing people the wonderful world beneath the sea.

It was the days of analogue photography, and being an impatient person I was frustrated by waiting much too long before I could see my results. I gave up. It was when digital cameras became affordable that I started to take pictures again. Finally all details were visible directly on my camera screen. I found that very rewarding.

My earliest digital photo works were based on nature photography, but after a trip to the Carnival of Venice it all changed. Visiting this wonderful event, I became fascinated by the mysterious masks in their wonderful environment of the grand buildings, the palazzos. I wanted to capture them, and this was my first step into ‘staged’ photography, leading to my story telling pictures that I mainly do nowadays.

How do you research to authentically recreate a ‘time’ long gone by, while preparing the ambience, the dresses of the model, make-up, lighting and other important elements? Does it require a fair bit of direction and guidance from your part to bring forth the emotions of the protagonists for dramatisation of photography? What importance does a ‘team’ hold for what essentially is a cinematic storytelling frozen in frames?

Being born in 1960, it was the decades between the 30s and the 70s that got my special interest, regarding people, furniture, clothing, colours and music. In my pictures I strive to create a kind of vintage mood.

Since my shoots do require a lot of preparation, I tend to shoot no more than once every two months.

The process requires setting out all my ideas onto a mood board, putting together the best team I can manage, choosing a suitable location, and organising all the props. It is a time consuming but rewarding process. The make-up artists and stylist bring such wonderful details into my work. I am convinced it is not the photographer alone who makes the picture.

It is the whole team pushing the release button.

Meer Verminder, Photography by Peter Kemp

You have in past created retrospective photographic artwork based on Vermeer and Rockwell’s paintings. What were your inspirations in choosing these two painters who at different times were master story tellers for everyday lives of their immediate surroundings?

The Vermeer work was triggered through cooperation with the Vermeer centre in Delft. After completion these works were shown in an exposition called Meer Verminder. Vermeer (1632-1675) lived in Delft; the same city where I am living now. But I wanted to change the concept. So I decided to work with children, body-painted models and a model with dark skin.

This project took me three months in preparation, creating mood boards and bringing the team together. We built our own Vermeer house in three days time. All the props were supplied by people and businesses from around Delft. It took ten days of shooting with models from Holland, France and Germany.

Norman Rockwell was such a great painter that inspires me a lot. And the thing which pleases me is it radiates in happiness. So I wanted to use that source of inspiration into some of my own works.

As a story teller recreating an image from your mind’s eye how much of your art is based on the spontaneity of your imagination? Do you actively seek experiences for visual story telling?

I derive inspiration from the people I see on street, while listening to music, watching movies, or by looking at old paintings. And create my own story in my head that may lead to a new photo project.

The problem is time! My ideas overrun time.

You have been a part of an 800 year old city (Delft, Netherlands) as a painter and now a photographer. What has been its most striking aspect for you as an artist and as a human being hailing from a historically and culturally rich city?

Walking in Delft makes me realise Vermeer, Willem van Oranje and other people might have walked here. This does give me inspiration. People should visit Delft and wander around some of its old parts. It is fun!

Do you have any anecdotal story from your vast experience that you would like to share?

Recently, when my work was exhibited in the Vermeer centre it was on the main floor. In the upper floors of the building Vermeer’s own work was being exhibited.

There were four people visiting the Vermeer centre and asked the lady behind the counter. ‘Madam, we did not see this work of Vermeer hanging among the other Vermeers on the first floor pointing at my work…’

Any specific exploration for the year?

There is lots of work waiting for 2013. But one of my own projects will be with an old sixties caravan.

Portrait of Peter Kemp

Peter Kemp enjoys…

Walking through the historical alleys of Brugge and Gent soaking in the glorious sunshine always feels irresistible to Peter. His favourite book happens to be Papillon by Henri Charrière and he enjoys watching The Intouchables, the much acclaimed 2011 French comedy-drama film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Trip hop and Reggae are his favourite genres in music and he adores the songs of Amy Winehouse. The orange hue makes him feel elated.

Find more of his work at http://www.peterkemp.nl/

Image Courtesy: Peter Kemp