Binh Danh’s work expresses his interest in culture, history and memory. He uses anachronistic, chemically based, photographic techniques to reflect on contemporary issues of war and violence. Early work drew on portraits of victims of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s genocide in Cambodia and iconic images of the Vietnam War. He reproduced these on leaves through a process he invented—chlorophyll printing. Fixing a negative over the living leaf, he allows the leaf’s natural photosynthesis to trace the light and shadow of the image though its production of green chlorophyll pigment in areas exposed to sunlight.
Born in Vietnam in 1977, Danh’s family fled to the United States two years later. They continued observing traditional Vietnamese customs, especially Buddhist worship of ancestors. Thus, says Danh, he grew up “meditating on death and its influence on the living.” More recently, Danh has experimented with Daguerreotypes—a 19th century photographic technique in which a light-sensitive, highly polished, silver-plated copper sheet is exposed to light and produces a single image. Using this, he has depicted charged places: the high-school-turned-prison Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phon Penh, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s famous Khmer temple Angkor Wat, the city of San Francisco, and America’s National Parks. These works’ mirrored surfaces superimpose the face of the viewer onto the images, making the viewer complicit with the scene.
Danh received his MFA from Stanford University in 2004. His work is widely collected and exhibited, including at the 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia.