Regardless of generation, cultural background, or level of direct involvement, we cannot escape being touched by the faces in Binh Danh’s series, titled One Week’s Dead. Danh collects photographs and other remnants of the Vietnam War and re-processes them in a way that brings new light to a history marked by painful memories. A main source of the images is the 1969 Life magazine article, Faces of the American Dead: One Week’s Dead. Portraits of two hundred forty-two young American men, casualties in one week of the war, were presented in a yearbook-style layout, triggering a powerful public response: “the entire nation mourned those soldiers…you saw those faces, that’s what brought it home to everyone.”1 Danh uses photosynthesis to incorporate these portraits in the cells of leaves and grasses, symbolic of the jungle itself bearing witness to scars of war that remain in the landscape.
Danh is reconstructing histories that occurred before he was born, but have undoubtedly affected him. He was less than two years of age when his parents and siblings escaped their home in Vietnam to establish a new home in the United States. Rather than being caught in the pain of the past, he has transformed the experience into one that takes no sides, reminding us that wars may end, but they are never over. Nearly forty years later we are like the readers of Life magazine in 1969—held captive by Danh’s resurrection of the young men’s faces. Viewing Danh’s fragile and sometimes faint forms rendered by sunlight onto leaves and grass, we are made aware of the permanence of even one human life lost.
Assistant Director, Light Work
1 Barbara Baker Burrows, “Photography Transformed, 1960-1999,” from American Photography: A Century of Images, PBS, 1999.
Binh Danh received his MFA from Stanford University in 2004 and has emerged as an artist of national importance with work that investigates his Vietnamese heritage and our collective memory of war, both in Viet Nam and Cambodia—work that, in his own words, deals with “mortality, memory, history, landscape, justice, evidence, and spirituality.” His technique incorporates his invention of the chlorophyll printing process, in which photographic images appear embedded in leaves through the action of photosynthesis. His newer body of work focuses on the Daguerreotype process.
Binh Danh has been included in important exhibitions at museums across the country, as well as the collections of the Corcoran Art Gallery, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the deYoung Museum, and the George Eastman House, among many others. He received the 2010 Eureka Fellowship from the Fleishhacker Foundation and is represented by Haines Gallery in San Francisco, CA and Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ.