The collaboration between visual artist Binh Danh and poet Robert Schultz became visible in 2009 when The Virginia Quarterly Review published a gallery of six images and the poems they inspired, and five poems and corresponding images appeared in Subtropics.
That spring The Northwest Review published the sestina “Camouflage” and featured Binh Danh’s leafprint “Battlefield No. 3” on its cover.
These poems and others are included in a recently completed book manuscript by Robert Schultz, in which the past lives on in the present and the dead speak through the living. This idea of persistence and inheritance stands central in the work of Binh Danh, whose art of witness responds to the Southeast Asian violence that altered—or ended—so many lives.
In his leafprints—photographs developed by chlorophyll action in the flesh of leaves—Binh Danh resurrects victims of the Vietnam-American war and the Cambodian genocide, expressing cycles both karmic and organic. Having appropriated portraits of Khmer Rouge victims taken as they were processed into the Tuol Sleng torture prison, Danh has commented: “I hope they will be alive in us as we remember them, and in return we give them life.” In Danh’s daguerreotypes such an empathic response is encouraged when the viewer sees his or her own image reflected in the work’s metallic surface, mingled with the subject.
In response to Binh Danh’s themes and images, Robert Schultz’s poetry expresses cycles, recurrences, and reflections through his use of echoing rhyme schemes and forms that employ repeated lines or phrases—pantoums, sestinas, villanelles, and triolets. His poem “Amulet” adapts the Persian form, the ghazal.
In a remarkable turn, the artist who has responded so feelingly to Southeast Asia’s civil wars has begun to examine the landscapes and memorials of the American Civil War. And in this new context, Binh Danh’s daguerreotypes and leafprints echo Walt Whitman’s central trope—the leaves of common grass seen as hieroglyphic:
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves. / . . . This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers, / Darker than the colorless beards of old men, / Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
The reproduction of Binh Danh’s daguerreotype, Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, was printed using Epson Ultrachrome K3 inks after the heavyweight, mouldmade paper was prepared by hand with an InkAid coating to make it receptive to the digital print process. The slight texturing of the coating lends the image an impressionistic effect appropriate to the reflective daguerreotype surface of the original. This fin art, limited edition broadside was produced using the highest-quality materials and techniques and is suitable for public and private collections and for all lovers of poetry and photography.