Hans Kemp

Hans Kemp

My first introduction to Vietnam's motorbikes was back in 1991. The country had just started to open up to foreign visitors and I wanted to explore and photograph. It was the eve of Tet, Vietnamese New Year, and the streets were jam-packed with people cruising around on mopeds. I remember stepping out of my hotel, situated on Nguyen Hue, one of Saigon's (Ho Chi Minh City) main thoroughfares, and being frozen, staring in awe at the unending river of bikes.

People were all dressed up and not aiming to go anywhere, other than doing the rounds, to see and be seen, inviting in the New Year. I stood on the pavement for a long time, mesmerized by an incredibly intoxicating mix of petrol and perfume, and thought "This is not a bad place, not a bad place at all.”

Fast forward to over a decade later. I am living in Ho Chi Minh City and running a photography operation producing postcards, calendars and books. I also work for advertising agencies on commercial shoots. One of my clients asks me to produce a small series of images for a farewell gift to their MD. The subject: Stuff that gets carried around on motorbikes… Once I started shooting the motorbikes I couldn’t stop. For months I went chasing. I had figured out that the only way to get “clean” shots, that is to say shots without any other traffic interfering, was to participate in the traffic myself, on a motorbike. Now I wasn’t going to ride a bike and photograph at the same time, even though the traffic didn’t daunt me and my bike riding skill was, by that time, on par with the locals. No, I engaged the services of a motorcycle taxi driver. Xe ôm, the Vietnamese called this service. Literally it eans motorcycle hugging, a reference no doubt to the close contact with the driver the passenger has as they weave in and out of the hectic traffic.

Being at the mercy of a xe ôm driver while hanging off the side with a camera to the ready, I choose my driver carefully. I always tried to engage Mr. Minh. He was quick to get my idea, incredibly steady in his driving and not afraid to abort a chase when traffic made it hazardous. And he became an extra pair of eyes on the street. As I was focussed on one side he would spot something in the oncoming traffic, alert me and if I gave the go ahead we U-turned, accelerated to a parallel position and executed the perfect shot.

When Bikes of Burden appeared on the market in December 2003 the book became an instant success. Articles on sites as “Slate”, “Bored Panda” and “My Modern Met” further cemented a dedicated fan base for these incredible load-carrying motorbikes. In 2005 the book was mentioned in a keynote speech on US-Vietnam trade relations by Senator Max Baucus, as “a vision of a country on the go”, a reason to normalise trade relations between the two former adversaries. A photo book as policy maker.

In 2007 Bikes of Burden was in the Asian Art Biennial and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts acquired 12 large prints for its permanent collection. In 2011 I published an expanded edition of the book, relieved to see the species alive and well. The added section with more images aptly called Bikes of Burden - Reloaded.

Bikes of Burden is still going strong and the book has thus far sold well over 100,000 copies, with editions in English, German, French and Japanese. Now Bikes of Burden is accelerating once more. The Crypto Space beckons and having the images immortalised as NFTs is a befitting tribute to one of the most original species of the early 21st Century. It’s been quite the ride!

WHAT THE FUTURE HAS IN STORE?

Having been a photographer for most of my life my archive is spread across terabytes of external discs. I am distilling that material into new series. Photography that has withstood the test of time and will now find its rightful place in the NFT realm.

I have started a growing series of black and white images on Foundation. These images are to me what photography is all about: up close and personal, telling stories of humanity, the big family we are all part of. https://foundation.app/@Lightchronicler

One of the other projects I want to bring into the space is my latest book: Divine Encounters - Sacred Rituals and Ceremonies in Asia. A labor of love spanning almost 2 decades and completed in 2019. The book was awarded the Silver Medal in the photography category of the 2020 Independent Publisher of the Year Awards.

To have my photography present in the NFT space feels like coming full circle with my art. I can safely leave it there. Soon it is time to start a new mega project. It will involve shamans and travel to far flung places. My head is busy mapping out this new journey right now!

Check out free NFT ArtDrop by Hans Kemp here

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True NFT degen and Redlion mascot since 2021. I really need a fix 🚬 man so dm me if you got some!

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