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“The Year of Hope" Photographer Reinhardt Kenneth Talks Art, Xenophobia, and Social Awakening

“The Year of Hope" Photographer Reinhardt Kenneth Talks Art, Xenophobia, and Social Awakening

Reinhardt Kenneth is an Indonesian-Chinese fashion/celebrity photographer, based in Los Angeles. He first picked up a camera when he was 14. He grew up in Indonesia obsessed with Tumblr. His mother is a fashion designer, and his father works in textile retail. “It’s in my blood to love fashion and creation,” he says. Inspired by his mom, Kenneth describes their relationship as telepathic because of their artistic synchronicity. 

The Rise of Reinhardt Kenneth

Influenced early on by the likes of Lady Gaga and Alexander McQueen, he recounts his initial work as drawing on “Avante-Garde, sometimes slightly grotesque yet beautiful imagery.” He grew up hearing, “Are you sure you want to be an artist? Art isn’t a real job.” Franca Sozzani from Vogue Italia and the Lourve in France recognized him as a young Asian artist. Finally gaining recognition and a platform assured him that he was in the right place, at the right time. At 19, Kenneth moved to Los Angeles Angelos where he now resides.

Kenneth views his current creations as a deviation from his previous work, which he describes as merely whimsical and beautiful. Right now, I don’t just want to create art that is beautiful or divine or fun but create impactful art. This past year, 2020 being the fucked up year that it was, I’ve been trying to create work that speaks to higher vibrations.”

Reinhardt Kenneth, fashion, photography
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Socially Conscious Art: Anti-Asian Xenophobia, Black Lives Matter, and the Pandemic

In early 2020, Kenneth created the photo series “Hate is a Virus” that commented on the anti-Asian xenophobia that escalated after news of the coronavirus originating from Wuhan. China entered the American news media. 

His biggest project of 2020 was “2020: The Year of Hope,” a fashion film and photo series that featured 7 diverse models, drawing on themes of tragedy and hope. As parts of marginalized communities, the girls face unique sets of challenges maneuvering the world. 2020, though tough and uncomfortable, brought to light a multitude of social issues that did not receive sufficient coverage in the past. . 

Reinhardt Kenneth, fashion, photography
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With the racial awakening triggered by George Flyod’s death in June spearheaded by Black Lives Matter, the revamp of #MeToo and LGBTQ+ awareness, and the explosion in Beirut, Kenneth hoped his photo campaigns would respectfully acknowledge these issues while also instilling a sense of hope and optimism.

He wanted to promote positive change in a year that was so dark for everyone, because he believes it pushed people to exhibit greater understanding toward one another. “It’s the first year we could all relate to each other in isolation, build sympathy, and think beyond our own selves.”

Reinhardt Kenneth, fashion, photography
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Diversity, Representation, and Identity

Kenneth is aware of how his identity, impacted by American racism, manifests in his photographic work. Growing in Indonesia with a Chinese background, he didn’t really resonate with “high art” Western photography. However, he created his own style and aesthetic, breaking from the stifling sterility of conventional photography. “The Western world picked me for my identity as a teenaged Indonesian-Chinese kid.” 

It was only after coming to Las Angelos that he truly started to understand his identity. “Yes, I’m an artist that comes from my visions and my passions, but I am an Asian-American creator in a Western world, of course I’m affected by my surroundings and my appearance. 

For the first time, my perspective has space in the media. I can speak up and people will be willing to listen.” While he used to aim to “be more Westernized,” he now knows that there is space for him in the field. If not, I will make the space for my identity,” he says.

He is conscious about representation when it comes to his shoots ensuring he picks a diverse group of models in his shoots. 

“These days, being aware of diversity and showing different bodies and cultural backgrounds is so important in my work, espiecially in the fashion world, which is historically white, straight, cis, and skinny. But fashion should be for everyone and that has to be represented. I feel like fashion has always felt exclusive and I want my work to feel inclusive.”

At the core of all his work created in the past year is a message of love and compassion for people. When asked about his first activity post-pandemic, he said he would want to hug people again without the nagging fear of possibly infhttps://youtu.be/lIPPd7CfdWwecting a loved one. He acknowledges that even though the pandemic was painful and excessively drawn out, it brought to light areas where people lacked compassion. 

An Artistic Awakening

He confessed, “If you were to ask where I’d see myself in 5 years before the pandemic, I would’ve said I wanted to be on magazine covers and working with big names. Of course, these things still matter but there’s an aspect of my work that grew during the pandemic which is socially aware. In the long-run, I want my art to stand for the right things.”

Coming to this conclusion wasn’t easy for Kenneth though. When he first came to LA, many of his shoots were whimsical, beautiful, fun, and artistically powerful. As he reflects on his art’s larger message, he believes that artists like himself should use their platform and the power of universal visual language to push for positive, social change. 

Upon being asked if he would label his work as artistic, he says, “Call it what you want. I just want to make beautiful art that doesn’t shy away from truths I stand for. I am a fashion photographer and that’s my language of expression.” 

Reinhardt Kenneth, fashion, photography
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He encourages any young creative, especially young creatives of color, to pursue their artistic dreams even if they don’t see themselves adequately represented in the art world. In his experience, following gut artistic instincts and perseverance leads to success. He muses, “I did not know I’d be in LA talking to you when I first started photography. All it takes is sticking by your truths.”

#ThePhotographicSense X #DianaCouture #hopefulhUmaNITY2020

 

Credits:

Cole: Photography: Reinhardt Kenneth (Literali Agency) Fashion Designer: Diana Couture by Diana M Putri Muse: Cole Woods Producer: Thomas Bang & Katerina Hung (Literali Agency) Hair: Cherry Peterbrink & Taylor Peterbrink Make Up: Jeanne San Diego Accessories: UBS Gold (The Archives & Showroom) Shoes: Jolie Moda Stylist’s Assistants: Alexandra Lamas & Chiara Ndangoh Hair Assistants: Katie Alm & Diana Herrera Make Up Assistants: Nicole Garza Production Assistants: Joyce Ng, Deby Sucha, Brandi J, Freen, Sofia Lopez, Lom Nguyen, Nathan David

Jessica: Photography: Reinhardt Kenneth (Literali Agency) Fashion Designer: Diana Couture by Diana M Putri Muse: Jessica Belkin Producer: Thomas Bang & Katerina Hung (Literali Agency) Hair: Cherry Peterbrink & Taylor Peterbrink Make Up: Bryan The Savage Accessories: UBS Gold (The Archives & Showroom) Shoes: Jolie Moda Stylist’s Assistants: Alexandra Lamas & Chiara Ndangoh Hair Assistants: Katie Alm & Diana Herrera Production Assistants: Joyce Ng, Deby Sucha, Brandi J, Freen, Sofia Lopez, Lom Nguyen, Nathan David

Jaslene: Photography: Reinhardt Kenneth (Literali Agency) Fashion Designer: Diana Couture by Diana M Putri Muse: Jaslene Whiterose Producer: Thomas Bang & Katerina Hung (Literali Agency) Hair: Cherry Peterbrink & Taylor Peterbrink Make Up: Carisa Arellano Accessories: UBS Gold (The Archives & Showroom) Shoes: Jolie Moda Stylist’s Assistants: Alexandra Lamas & Chiara Ndangoh Hair Assistants: Katie Alm & Diana Herrera Make Up Assistants: Emma Anderson Production Assistants: Joyce Ng, Deby Sucha, Brandi J, Freen, Sofia Lopez, Lom Nguyen, Nathan David

Yasmeen: Yasmeen Photography: Reinhardt Kenneth (Literali Agency) Fashion Designer: Diana Couture by Diana M Putri Muse: Yasmeen “YAS” Al-Mazeedi Producer: Thomas Bang & Katerina Hung (Literali Agency) Hair: Cherry Peterbrink & Taylor Peterbrink Make Up: Star Tsai Accessories: UBS Gold (The Archives & Showroom) Shoes: Jolie Moda Stylist’s Assistants: Alexandra Lamas & Chiara Ndangoh Hair Assistants: Katie Alm & Diana Herrera Production Assistants: Joyce Ng, Deby

Cover Image: Duda: Photography: Reinhardt Kenneth (Literali Agency) Fashion Designer: Diana Couture by Diana M Putri Muse: Duda Castro Producer: Thomas Bang & Katerina Hung (Literali Agency) Hair: Cherry Peterbrink & Taylor Peterbrink Make Up: Alex Jairus Accessories: UBS Gold (The Archives & Showroom) Shoes: Jolie Moda Stylist’s Assistants: Alexandra Lamas & Chiara Ndangoh Hair Assistants: Katie Alm & Diana Herrera Production Assistants: Joyce Ng, Deby Sucha, Brandi J, Freen, Sofia Lopez, Lom Nguyen, Nathan David

Supported by: FBF, Literali, UBS Gold, Clariskin Clinic, Clarity Air Disinfectant, Joico, Olivia Garden, Food Fest Live, EN Wonderland, BeLeaf Burgers, Omni Bev Inc, Loose Leaf Boba Company, Jolie Moda, Impressions Vanity, Mr. Biagio Lombardo

Special Thanks to: Burrel Lee Wilks III , Sissy & Rene Figueroa