by Ian Munro
I have been lucky enough to work alongside Peter Kemp during workshops and have become good friends. The Storytelling photographer from Delft in Holland, has a unique style and an end product that is not unlike the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. I was privileged enough to meet up with Peter to chat about his work and what aspects he finds important to creating images with stories.
Hi Peter, thanks for taking time to chat to us at 1x.com. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in photography.
I am a freelance photographer coming from Delft in Holland. In the past I have loved to draw but today the magic of digital photography allows me to incorporate all my ideas running through my head all day.
The stories in your images are sometimes funny and sometimes sad. You seem to create humour from the most awkward scenarios. Who have been the people that have influenced your art of the years and has your own life experiences affected your photography?
Most of the stories are the things I have seen or read in daily life. My father was a painter and movie maker. In fact he was of great influence and showed me his little funny movies. My interest in drawing and the works of the Dutch master painters are evident in my photography nowadays. The experiences in my own life do play a part in the mood of my story telling pictures.
Your images are always a visual feast with unusual props and furniture. How and where do you locate these wonderful pieces to compliment the story?
Well I am interested in the times between 1930- 1965. The vintage themes allow me to incorporate both glamour as well as comedy or sad nuances. My neighbour is a collector of old props and furniture and does own an antique shop right next door so it's a dream situation.
Now I have been doing this kind of photography for a couple of years so people around me know what I like. So they are always on hand to help me find new props.
How do you get the best from the models you work with in terms of poses and expressions? The models you sometimes use are alternative and unlike conventional “catwalk” or “glamour” models. Do you feel they convey the stories better?
My models are my big stars and they fill a major part into our stories. Without them I feel totally lost!
It is all about communication so we talk a lot about the best expressions and poses for the shoot. Another thing that helps a team is to shoot tethered. My models and the other team members can see directly what we are shooting. It makes a big difference to see the image straight away on a laptop and easier to spot any imperfections.
Sometimes the models look alternative and not conventional but I really like them. My models are used to carry the story as best as possible and that may require glamour, comedy, young or older. In my opinion they are not only good looking people but they are beautiful people on the inside and fantastic to work with.
I love to work with teams trying to include all the creativeness of all these different people ( including stylists, make-up artist and other ...). It is all about teamwork!
Having worked alongside you Peter, I know that preparation and planning is important to you. Once you have an initial idea what are the next important steps to you in order to get the best from the shoot?
Yes the preparation is very important. After drawing my stories on paper I know which models and team members I want to ask for this series. So they are invited and I send them a concept mood board. I then ask them for their ideas and feed back to make the concept and mood board plans definite.
Once you are ready to shoot the scene, can you tell us a little about the way that you set up the lights? Do you try and keep things simple or is there a specific set up you use?
I like to keep thing technically simple if possible. The story is more important than the technical perfection. Since I am not a technical photographer I work with artificial light created by soft boxes in a basic set up. I also use darker backgrounds and golden reflection screens to play the natural available light as much as possible.
I know that you have built some of your sets including windows, walls and flooring. How do you locate these fantastic models and some of the great locations that you work in? Some of the mansions you shoot in are incredible.
For the bigger projects like my series Meer Verminder, I built the whole set up. The Vermeer centre is in Delft, so I felt strongly about building and creating the scene. Over the last few years I have been invited to work in wonderful old houses and buildings in Delft and around my region. This gives me great photo opportunities in places that I would not normally be allowed.
Once you are happy with the shoot and you get home to your computer how do you tackle the processing? Can you tell us a little about the workflow that gets that painterly look?
Working with my Hasselblad camera tethered on a shoot we, as a team can correct all little `faults` directly on the set thus minimising processing. However once home and on examination of my work I open the image up in Photoshop CS4. My primary tools for getting a painterly look would have to be the dodge and burn tools, they are very powerful once mastered.
What are the most important things to consider when attempting to tell a story using models and do you feel that story is more important than technical perfection?
To me what is important is to have a clear plan so I can communicate that clearly to my team. Everybody has to know what to do before the camera clicks and that reflects in the mood. A photo shoot has to be relaxed and a great experience TO ALL OF US ...
What are your favourite images within you’re 1x gallery?
My favourite images are my Meer Verminder series, I enjoyed working with them. I am also a fan of Bill Gekas who's work is wonderful.
Lastly, what are the plans for Peter Kemp over the next 12 months? Are there any exciting projects or workshops we can look forward to?
There are workshops coming up in Holland and in Italy along with Norway. There will also be a big project that I am excited for but cannot say too much at the moment…..it's a surprise!
Thanks for giving all of us, at 1x.com some great tips and an insight to storytelling images that continue to inspire.