Invented in 1837 by artist and chemist Louis Daguerre, the daguerreotype was the first commercially viable — though labor- and materials-intensive — photographic process. It involved exposure of a copper plate covered with light-sensitive silver in a box camera to produce a unique image that is irreproducible. "Daguerreotypes are mirrored," notes Binh. "So when you look at them, you also see yourself; that's why a daguerreotype is called a mirror with a memory. The mirror remembers who you are."

A dignified Buddhist sensibility pervades Binh Danh's otherwise unsettling shots of child and adult prisoners. Binh's nasturtium leaves echo the shape of those from the lotus, a sacred plant in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The lotus and its leaf are rife with symbolic references to purity, since even after emerging from mud, they do not retain dirt when they unfurl.

The artist's use of daguerreotypes is especially fitting for his subject matter. His images, literally and figuratively, reflect the eternal cycle of death and rebirth — the ultimate act of recycling, while freezing a moment in time and simultaneously reflecting our participation in that moment.

Ghost of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #2
courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery
Ghost of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #2

Details

"Binh Danh: In the Eclipse of Angkor" will run through June 27 at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 N. Marshall Way in Scottsdale. Visit www.lisasettegallery.com for info.

In Vietnamese Buddhist culture, it is generally believed that one does not die but merely passes on to another invisible world that co-exists with the land of the living. Because they have supernatural powers, the dead watch over and assist the living. For this reason, home altars, decorated with photos, flowers, food offerings and incense, are built to honor and pray to the departed. Dead people who are forgotten or to whom veneration is not given are doomed to wander the Earth disconsolate, preying on the living.

The consummate intertwining of technique and intent, Binh Danh's powerful images are not just a dignified homage to those slaughtered during Pol Pot's regime. In truth, they are a part of a consummate ancestral altar the artist has constructed to revere, honor, and remember still unidentified victims of human savagery everywhere. They are a lyric tribute to all those who have been blotted out, like an eclipsed sun, much too soon and lost to history.

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