THROUGH THE LENS OF: Celebrity photographer Reinhardt Kenneth

Lights. Camera. SHOOT!  Upon scrolling through Reinhardt Kenneth’s Instagram, I was shocked by the kaleidoscope of colours and styles that decorated his models and brought each image to life, beyond the confines of their Instagram post.

He has selfies with Lady Gaga. he’s got countless Harper’s Bazaar covers. His work opens the most enchanting worlds. The man himself –– Reinhardt Kenneth –– is such a vibrant personality, talking to us with such enthusiasm — that even a simple email exchange with him brought out his intense passion for his craft. 

He was just like any high school student, going through his ‘teen angst’ phase in life, but his new-found superpower proved to be more than typical.

Art seemed to be in his blood as he grew alongside his mother’s fashion design career. It started small, from playing Hide and Seek within the fashion workroom to picking up his first camera at just fourteen. Now, one would expect puberty and the transition into adulthood to precede any typical teenager’s rebellious phase in life — but a young Reinhardt on the cusp of adolescence found another outlet to express himself: Photography. 

He was just like any high school student, going through his ‘teen angst’ phase in life, but his new-found superpower proved to be more than typical. Soon, he found himself featured in renowned magazines, in the likes of Art Basal Miami and Vogue Italia.

The Photographic Sense is a blog that Reinhardt started to document his journey in photography.  When we brought his old blog up, commenting that even his earliest photos had left us awe-inspired, he lets out a near-comedic explanation. “OH MY GOD”, Reinhardt starts, yelling, “The last time I touched that blog was– what — five years ago?” 

“That was a long time ago. My history is alive on the blog, so to remove it would be a pity.” The Photographic Sense featured insightful observations about his culture and heritage, coupled with original photographs that brought parts of his vision to life.  “I love citing myths and heritage in my work — and sort of just, y’know, provide my own take on them.” His old blog and new website-to-be have become online homes for his beginnings and his present identity, and we’re glad to hear that he’s preserved his story online, for it takes great courage to do so.

“Growing up Chinese-Indonesian and attending an International school bred my unique fusion of  perspectives. It’s a blend of Marie Antoinette, the Garuda Bird, In the Mood for Love, McQueen and so 2010’s Gaga.”

But what else does he consider to be essential hallmarks of his work? “A splash of my culture and heritage”, he tells us, eyes gleaming with firm ambition, “and you get Reinhardt Kenneth art.

Our initial impressions of his work bring the words “bold, bright and bubbly” to mind — but truly experiencing the mosaic of colours and light-play characteristic of a Reinhardt Kenneth composition would unlock a deeper, more complex layer of planning and design that has gone into each masterpiece. He shares that each piece isn’t just an unrestrained spill of creativity, but something “focused, vibrant and well-resourced.”

“If anything, I’m still the same crazy creative that started this journey, but instead of a dispersed light source — I’d say that it’s more laserlight, laser-focused.”

This is evident in Reinhardt’s critically acclaimed #HATEISAVIRUS campaign: one that carefully and creatively stirs the soup of emotions that have directed and motivated actions against Asians in different parts of the world, a farce in the face of a true global crisis that should bring us all together in strength rather than divide us along racialised lines. Reinhardt slings his camera over a shoulder and directs where a model stands and which hip to jut out and which cloth to drape over an elbow; he might as well be slinging a bow of arrows over his frame, shooting down the smokescreens that mask irrational leadership and racist sentiments as the pot of emotions is brought to a boil.

Although many have spoken out against these sentiments, Reinhardt took it to an impressive production level with the campaign. Proclaiming, in slashes of maroon and ultraviolet, that we should not become as toxic as the virus itself. The nearly-outlandish styling of corsets and tiny, metallic-looking feathers and outstretched legs is reigned tightly into the narrative directed by Reinhardt himself, capturing tight visuals that speak volumes of what a creator can do in a time of crisis. 

Lives have been changed amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and that includes Reinhardt’s own routines, too. He shared with us his day-to-day attempts to keep himself well-connected to friends and family while staying productive. “In the mornings I will pray and either kickstart the day with a chill Studio Ghibli movie marathon with Joe Hisaishi or a more intense and empowering session with some Thomas Bergersen playing.” This is followed by exercise and Reinhardt turning to the kitchen to whip up an “‘all-too-delicious sounding’ dirty chai oat latte for a big brunch crossover meal”, he shares, and we can’t help but conjure an image of a table set with the most elaborately-plated brunch dish — true to the Reinhardt Kenneth vision.

He “works hard (mostly listening to Grimes) and plays hard (chilling with Netflix, talking with family and friends, playing Pokemon/ Animal Crossing). “It’s a tough life, I know”, he adds sarcastically, laughing. 

But here’s what’s intriguing about the surface-normalcy of his routine: That it’s an out-of-place lifestyle for Reinhardt Kenneth, the celebrity photographer. As part and parcel of his career, he travels the world to shoot the glitziest and the glammest, transforming individuals into iconic institutions featured in his final compositions.

And with the opportunity to capture these “other-worldly” celebs with a click, there is bound to be some sense of anxiety or nervousness. But for Reinhardt, it’s the complete opposite.

“It’s really interesting actually, because the Internet leads you into painting celebrities as such a character in your head — but upon meeting them, you realise they’re just as human as you are.”

“I’ve never been anxious to meet another celebrity because we are all creatives bringing something essential to the table and thus in that retrospect, we are equal.”

So what tips does the multi-talented visionary have to share with aspiring young photographers?

“Stay humble”, he begins. “I didn’t start photography for fame, money and power. Though I understand their importance, they are only milestones (that I achieve) along the way to my goal.”

“My aim was always to leave my mark, to inspire others and to change lives.” Reinhardt’s words, sharp with ambition, stand strong, in front of a younger, “insecure, fourteen year old” boy — and the lens of his camera seems to click away with even more urgency and clarity than before.

“My aim was always to leave my mark, to inspire others and to change lives.”

So it makes good sense that his concluding words, though spoken softly and with a hint of gravitas, carry his overwhelming zeal to create. “Persistence — that’s what I have to say: shoot like it keeps you alive, like you need to let out a scream, like no one is watching.”

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