The Coronavirus is what the whole world can only focus on right now. This pandemic not only brought us a vast number of deaths, it has also bought out the true humanity of the society – blame and hatred. Asian Americans across the country are being harassed and assaulted for the virus. Names were called, and properties were vandalized. Photographer Reinhardt Kenneth decided to stand up against the bullies with this HATE IS A VIRUS campaign.

HUF Magazine had an opportunity to speak to Reinhardt about how he felt about what is happening in America, and what is the best cure for this hatred that is being encouraged by their government.

“A near future, post COVID-19 dystopia, featuring consequences of error in human behavior, starring empowered Asian models – in face masks”Reinhardt Kenneth

That exact world came to Reinhardt’s mind as he woke up to a swarm of Coronavirus-related news pre-quarantine one Tuesday morning. Times felt uncertain, as the news highlights videos of Asian Americans all over the country getting harassed and assaulted left and right out of blame and hatred. Images of groceries running out of daily essentials and produces also spark the internet, raising a thought in his head. That same thought was the world he wanted to create, not to glamourize a pandemic, but to raise awareness. He personally thinks that, as deadly as it is to contract the Coronavirus, blame, hatred, xenophobia, mass hysteria, and the abuse of privilege is an even deadlier Virus.

After pitching the idea to a few of his collaborators, he formed a group of creative to, together, create art in the state of panic to together raise an awareness, raise conversations, provide a voice to the voiceless, and heal through art. Hosted by the amazing Haven City Market in Rancho Cucamonga, the shoot took place on the last day before Southern California was on lockdown. As the old saying goes “everything happens for a reason”, from location, minimal set design, to teamwork, Reinhardt and his amazing group of creative together collaborated to create the most powerful & dynamic images.

The first look was heavily inspired by traditional Asian clothing with a modern spin. Reinhardt wanted the “survivors” of the pandemic to resemble Asian warriors to symbolize empowerment to those who might have suffered xenophobia and hate crime in this time. The xenophobia (not only to Chinese, but to all different Asian nationalities) comes out of blame due to the virus coming from China. We wanted to make sure to highlight these warriors with protest signs, ones that come out of unity and love. Words like “Hate is a Virus” and “I am not a Virus” symbolizes the whole community to come together and protest, out of love.
The second look features the girls with colorful yarn pigtails in white dresses surrounded by facemasks flying everywhere. We made sure to, even though symbolic, be mindful and not waste the rare facemasks. Only 5 facemasks were thrown repeatedly in the images and quickly dusted off and sanitized after (everything else was post work). The images represent a dystopia in the future when these facemasks are already waste, and that there is a mass hysteria to, instead of prioritize them for medical needs, hoard them and turn them to waste.
The third look features the girls in monochromatic vibrant colors. The look might be high fashion luxurious steampunk, but these girls lie on an ocean of Coronavirus-related waste. From excessive hand soap and sanitizer bottles to medical gloves, once again this picture comments on the panic buying culture that’s going on, leaving too much waste in the apocalyptic future due to panic. Instead of being mindful and only purchasing what you need, the panic the pandemic has caused ends up being mountains of waste. Apart from that, the juxtaposition between the luxurious looking girls and the waste tackles on the abuse and selfishness privilege may bring.
The fourth and last look features the girls posing in front of a “graveyard of shopping carts”. This refers to greed, due to the scarcity of produces due to hoarding and panic buying, the “girls from the future” have found only a graveyard of what used to be carts used to put produces. This shows the world that greed can achieve.

As each and every image tackles different negative human behaviors in this pandemic, these images are made to create an awareness. Yes, it may be fantastical and aesthetically pleasing artistically, but this is the world we do not want to live in. This is a world that, if we keep on practicing these selfish and hateful behaviors, we will eventually achieve. Together, let’s help flatten the curve, but during this quarantine, even through social distancing learn to be as kind, compassionate, mindful, and as educated as possible.

Photography & creative direction: Reinhardt Kenneth
Producer: Thomas Bang
Stylist: Michelle Wu
Campaign supporter: Michelle K Hanabusa @ Uprisers World and Hate is a Virus
Lighting director: Summer Wuerthner
Makeup: Eiko Watanabe
Hair: Carisa Arellano
Videography: Randy Vu & Joe Rojas
Models: Mei Li Zheng @ Mazza Models, and Priscila Natalina
Photographer’s assistants: Jenna Nikole and Rieannon
Special thanks to Haven City Market for the hospitality
Special thanks to The Archives & Showroom featuring looks from Diana Couture, Michael Ngo, Kenneth Barlis, Gregory Kara, Zlatko Jovanovski, Weird Brain Creation, Roman Thevenin Paris &The One&Only UPRISERS

When you first watched videos of Asian Americans all over the country getting harassed and assaulted. How did you feel? Who do you feel is responsible for their behaviour?

I was scared, not as much for myself but for the entire community. We were progressing so much as a race, in terms of diversity and representation. It was as if we went back to square one. Innocent Asians everywhere getting harassed verbally, assaulted physically, and even in more dangerous situations like stabbed out of blame. It was devastating and disgusting how actions fueled by hate can turn out. In terms of who is responsible, I felt like the usage of the term “Chinese Virus” or “Kung Flu” was highly distasteful and unnecessary. It’s as if, yes it’s just a racist phrase, but through the president associating the virus with a country, it sort of gives the virus a human face. No, COVID-19 does not have a nationality and it sure does not discriminate.

Blame, hatred, xenophobia, mass hysteria, and the abuse of privilege has always existed in the society. Do you feel that the Coronavirus has brought the worst out of the people? Or do you feel that some people are simply taking an advantage of this pandemic and use it as an excuse to justify their behaviour?

A little bit of both. I feel that, when times are progressing and good, it’s easier for people to “be nice”. However, one’s true colors of kindness or selfishness truly comes out in desperate times. Oh, you lost your job? Doesn’t justify the stabbing of an Asian American family. I just feel like the pandemic and financial crisis is acting as a catalyst of hatred, blame, xenophobia, and selfishness in people. In terms of the mass hysteria and abuse of privilege, I wish people were way less self-centered and could see the bigger picture, being unity. No, you don’t need 5 years worth of toilet paper, yes, your neighbor might desperately need a roll.

Have you or any of your team (or know anybody personally) who has experienced harassment and assault? If so, can you tell us what happened?

Fortunately, not in my team. However, I have a friend in New York who has faced xenophobia and verbal harassment in the subways of New York. Another acquaintance’s son actually was shoved down in a public grocery by an older man. When you really read the situation, hate is a far bigger virus than COVID-19 itself.

What do you hope people would feel when they see these images?

Yes, it might aesthetically feel beautiful and damned. However, no, we don’t want to live in the world we created in the photographs. I want the aesthetic to steal their attention, however, I wanted to polarize an orchestrated reality towards what may happen if we don’t come in solidarity and unity. I wanted to portray a world filled with selfish wastes from panic buying, a world where we have to riot against xenophobia, a world where face masks are blowing in the wind, a world where shopping carts are lined up in their graveyard. This is the world I want all of us to AVOID, through images that might feel empowered, however, serves as an awareness.

In regards to the subject, I wanted to make sure I casted two powerful Asian models. Yes, the message tackles racism, but the fact that the virus is attached to those of Asian descent is where I wanted to empower these girls. Hey, these girls are of Asian descent, however, they are powerful warriors free of the virus.

Not all member of your team involved in this project are Asian. How do they feel about what’s happening in American?

It actually started as an all Asian team (not planned at all). However, circumstances happened and the team sort of changed last minute. I couldn’t ask for a better team though, they were all so talented, hard working, and passionate in what they do. Obviously, they were just as infuriated about the xenophobia happening towards Asian Americans as the Asians of the team. Their involvement was their way of sharing their voices through their different talents and abilities. I was truly blessed with the dream team.

What do you think is the best cure for hate?

HATE IS A VIRUS & LOVE IS THE CURE. Why do we have to create chaos, separation, and hatred when we can come in solidarity and unity. This is not a time to be divided and play the blame game. Instead, let’s spread nothing but Kindness, Compassion, and Love!

About the artist

Reinhardt Kenneth is an Indonesian Fashion/Celebrity Photographer based in Los Angeles. Through his dynamic and fantastical work, Reinhardt always tries to leave a deeper message in his photographs, whether that being empowerment, awareness, or compassion. As a self taught photographer since the age of 14, the 1997-born artist hopes to not only create aesthetically pleasing images, but leave an impact in the audience’s lives. Reinhardt has previously been featured in Vogue Italia, The Louvre’s Digital Exhibition, Art Basel Miami, LA Art Show, and many more.

“Leaving my Mark, One Shot at a Time”