NETWORK OF ENTERTAINING ASIAN AMERICAN TALENT
Vietnamese-American Binh Danh’s chlorophyll prints are as amazing as they are poignant. Using found photographs from the Vietnam War era, he imprints the images on the leaves through photosynthesis; creating a powerful link between the present and the past, alluding to the jungles that the war was fought in.
© Binh Danh
© Binh Danh
© Binh Danh
Some images here.
View Spark segment on Binh Danh. Original air date: May 2006. (Running Time: 9:30)
Each of the faintly rendered faces peering out from Binh Danh‘s leaf prints tells a story, as well as asks questions about history — likewise for Danh, who moved from war-torn Viet Nam as a young child in 1979. His work stems from his own unanswered questions about what happened in his native country. As he attempts to navigate the boundaries existing between personal and collective memories, he has used his work to give a face to the human costs of war.
Danh is not a photographer in the conventional sense — instead he works from an existing archive of photographs depicting the war’s many victims that he collects from various sources. Once he finds an appropriate image, he uses digital technology to make a negative transfer. From there, his work takes on a decidedly organic quality.
A lifelong interest in science primed the young artist to invent his own development process, which he coined “chlorophyll prints.” Danh begins by gathering leaves from his garden. Then he takes his negative image transfer and places it over a leaf, sandwiching the items between two sheets of glass. The arrangement is laid in the sun for a period of time (days or even weeks) until the ghostly visage appears. If it meets his approval, he then fixes the leaf in resin. According to the artist, this form of photography mirrors the continuing cycle of nature.
Spark catches up with Danh as he prepares for a collaborative installation with photographer Elizabeth Moy for their exhibition at the Intersection for the Arts (May 3 through June 17, 2006). Moy, whose father served in Viet Nam, shares an affinity with Danh in that her work seeks to reimagine the past. Seen together, their photographs create a space for reflection and contemplation of history that resonates in present times.
Binh Danh earned his B.F.A. in photography from San Jose State University and his M.F.A. from Stanford University in 2004. He has completed a residency at Cite Internationale Des Arts in Paris and has exhibited widely in the Bay Area, including shows at SF Cameraworks, the Kearny Street Project, the Oakland Museum of Art and the Triton Museum of Art. His work is included in the collections of the Oakland Museum of California and the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Special Collection.
Binh Danh’s Chlorophyll Art
NPR’s Ketzel Levine profiles Vietnamese-born photographer Binh Danh, who uses the power of the sun to print pictures on leaves. At the age of 25, Binh Danh is one of the youngest artists to be invited into Stanford University’s master of fine arts program.
June 23, 2003 — When Binh Danh prints pictures on leaves, something inexplicable happens. His small, green canvases expand beyond measure with both the seen and the unseen. The serenity of the Buddha on a circular nasturtium suggests a primordial, benevolent world; armed soldiers in camouflage, crouched in calla lily foliage, appear to be both predator and prey; and a young Vietnamese boy, held in the fingered palm of a philodendron, aches with human vulnerability.
As a photographer, Binh Danh has found that chlorophyll prints capture his belief in the interconnectedness of the natural world. One of his pictures features soldiers in the jungle; their image is printed on a very long, tropical leaf. “In a way,” he says, “the soldiers in their camouflage uniforms are becoming one with the landscape.” He also makes poignant use of leaves that are marred by insects or scarred by weather, which he finds add a sense of injury and decay to his prints.
From start to finish, his technique is this: Binh Danh begins by picking a leaf — often from his mother’s garden. To keep it from drying out, he fills a small bag with water and ties it to its stem. He places the leaf on a felt-covered board, and puts a negative directly on the leaf (he has an archive of images he’s collected from magazines and purchased online). He places glass over the leaf, clips the glass and board together, and puts the assemblage on the patio roof.
Binh Danh will check the image periodically to see how it’s “baking.” The process can last days or weeks. Four out of five times, he’s dissatisfied, and throws the leaf away. But when the chlorophyll print is right — whether precisely rendered or eerily vague — he takes the leaf, fixes it in resin, and frames it.
Though the images he chooses are often haunting and heart-wrenching, the Vietnamese-born Danh is not angry about the difficult years his family experienced during the Vietnam War. The 25-year-old Stanford University graduate student says it’s time to lay aside blame. “I try to look at all positions,” he says, “and learn from history. So we don’t repeat it again.”
The Garden House (“the garden of my dreams” says Keith), in the west of England, is open from March 1st to October 31st. –>