Become One with Our National Parks with These Modern-Day Daguerreotypes

Photographer Binh Danh uses an old technique to create a contemporary perspective on the American landscape.

July 18, 2016
"Yosemite Falls," March 8, 2012
Binh Danh

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.

"El Capitan," June 20, 2011
Binh Danh
"Yosemite Falls," April 15, 2012
Binh Danh
"Yosemite Falls," May 21, 2011
Binh Danh
"Yosemite Falls," October 13, 2011
Binh Danh
"Lower Yosemite Fall," June 20, 2014
Binh Danh
"Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires," June 11, 2012
Binh Danh
"Three Brothers," March 11, 2012
Binh Danh
"Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite," May 15, 2012
Binh Danh
"Sentinel Rock (view from Cathedral Beach)," January 11, 2012
Binh Danh
"Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point," May 31, 2012
Binh Danh
"El Capitan, (view from Cathedral Beach)," January 17, 2012
Binh Danh

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