“Exposed” Artist Profile: Binh Danh

Killing tree against which exectuioners beat children, Daguerreotype, edition varie 1/4, Courtesy of the Artist and Haines Gallery, San Francisco

Binh Danh

Binh Danh’s work is on view at the ICA in the exhibition Exposed: Today’s Photography/Yesterday’s Technology thru Sept 19, 2010.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice from 1902-1932 and one of photography’s first great critics, called the daguerreotype “a mirror with a memory.” As the first photographic process to have widespread commercial success, the daguerreotype rendered detailed images on a polished and reflective surface.

In his artwork, Binh Danh utilizes the mirror-like qualities of a daguerreotype to reflect upon histories of the past. Born in Vietnam, much of Danh’s work investigates the human and spiritual aftermath of the Vietnam War (or American War, as they call it in Southeast Asia). In these daguerreotypes, some of the source images come from the archive of the Khmer Rouge, the totalitarian ruling party in Cambodia from 1975-1979, known for ruthlessly executing innocent civilians after carefully documenting them. Additionally, Danh creates daguerreotypes based on his own photographs taken in Cambodia of contemporary Buddhist monks and ancient temples. The mirrored surface and relentless detail of the daguerreotype provoke self-reflection while invoking memories of the past.

Danh makes his daguerreotypes in his garage, coating a sheet of copper with several layers of silver. After he carefully cleans and polishes the plate, he fumes it with iodine and bromine in a closed container to produce a light sensitive surface. He then exposes the sensitized plate and develops it by the chemical action of mercury vapors on the exposed silver iodide surface to produce an image.

Based in San Jose, Binh Danh received his BFA from San Jose State University and his MFA from Stanford University. His works are held in the collections of the Corcoran Art Gallery, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the deYoung Museum, and the George Eastman House, among many others. He recently received the 2010 Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation.