Without the images captured by early landscape photographers like Carleton Watkins, Congress might have never been moved to create the National Park Service a century ago. The politicians simply wouldn’t have known what they were missing. Photographer Binh Danh wants to make sure present-day Americans don’t miss out on them, either.
His “Yosemite” series features his modern take on old-fashioned daguerreotypes, the photographic method invented by Louis Daguerre in the 1830s. The process, which took Danh five years to perfect, involves shining copper plates, coating them with silver, and using iodine vapor to sensitize the plates to light. The result is an image with a highly reflective surface, or, as they were known in the 19th century, “a mirror with a memory.”
So when you peer into one of Danh’s daguerreotypes of Yosemite’s El Capitan or Three Brothers, you’ll find yourself in there as well. When discussing the project with art historian Boreth Ly in 2012, Danh said, “I am interested in how we as a nation of immigrants and refugees could…see our faces in this landscape.” The photographer was only two years old when his family came to the United States in 1979 after fleeing Vietnam. As an immigrant himself, he told NPR’s Neda Ulaby that it’s important to see your identity merge with the land, not disappear into it.
Listen to an All Things Considered interview with Binh Danh.
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