I am fascinated by religion so when I was offered the opportunity to review Divine Encounters: Sacred Rituals and Ceremonies in Asia by Hans Kemp I happily accepted the book at no charge. All opinions expressed are my own.
About Divine Encounters:
At first sight, Asia’s rich and enigmatic culture seems to have fallen victim to the headlong pursuit of material wealth and the onslaught of the fast-food lifestyle. But look more closely and cracks in the glossy veneer of progress are appearing. Fissures reveal the remarkable survival of age-old traditions and customs, in spite of, or perhaps more accurately, precisely as a result of the rising tide of globalization and the resulting cultural alienation. For many people throughout Asia, life’s crucial decisions such as marriage, moving to a new city or the purchase of property, are too important to be left to the rational mind alone. There are other, more ethereal, forces at work. Spirits and deities are ubiquitous, their beneficent or malevolent nature can express itself at any time. As a hedge against future uncertainties these spirits need to be placated, worshipped and feted. And should misfortune strike, a healer or shaman navigates the spirit realms in search of a cure.
Divine Encounters is a photographic odyssey exploring an Asia hiding in plain sight, resilient and vibrant. For just behind the neon signs, the marble and stainless steel facades, the luxury cars and glitzy shopping malls, lies a different world. A world revealing itself through elaborate spirit rituals, blood-curdling ceremonies and exuberant festivals taking place all over the continent.
No book touching upon a subject so rich can ever claim to be exhaustive. What I present here is only a cross-section, covering such stalwart centers of spirit interactions as the forests of Papua New Guinea and the grasslands of Mongolia, but also including densely populated Hong Kong, industrialized Japan and the tropical beach paradise of Phuket in Thailand.
About the Author:
Award-winning Dutch photographer Hans Kemp is the author of seven photography books including the acclaimed Bikes of Burden, an ode to Vietnam’s load-carrying motorbikes, a bestseller with more than 100,000 copies sold in four languages. Other titles include Ardent Eye and Burmese Light. Kemp’s images from Asia have appeared in TIME, Discovery Magazine, Reader’s Digest, GEO (Germany), Asahigraph (Japan), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and a host of other international magazines. His photographs of Vietnam, printed on postcards, have reached millions of people around the world.
This is a powerful and dramatic book. It’s not, at least in my opinion, the kind of book you sit and read from cover to cover but rather one you pick up and read a section here and there. Even more so it’s a book that is driven by the spectacular photography. The book is oversized – of what is generally called the coffee table variety – so the photos are large and really grab the eye. You truly feel as if you are right there, in the moment with the celebrants.
The text goes into details of the various ceremonies and rituals of Asia from sects known and not. Some of the rituals are quite alien to Westerners and are therefore the photos can be a little difficult to view (piercings.) Mr. Kemp shows the events through the lens of his camera with an eye towards documenting and not judging. It allows for the reader (viewer?) to take in the moment in time of the ritual to learn what they can from it.
It’s certainly not a book for everyone but if you are interested in religion or religious ceremonies this is certainly a book that will expand beyond the “big three” religions. This book opens the eyes to so many other practices. It was fascinating.