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.